Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Location, location, location...

Nope! I'm not looking to buy or sell property. However, location plays a major role in the setting for mss. (Actually, it applies to more than novel writing, any form of fiction needs a setting or set for scripts.)

Even though location plays a backstage role in most novels, it can have a huge impact on the believable factor for the reader. You can take the average main character (MC) and move them from one location to another unrelated location, and their behavior will adapt - or should.

While the characters, particularly the MC and the antagonist, play the largest role in getting the reader to dispense with reality and buy into your story's reality, a well done setting can help the process along.

I'm visiting in Pine, AZ, in the Tonto National Forest. This isn't the typical mountain living, like in Flagstaff or one of the Colorado mountain cities. This is where cabins are sparely placed in the forest. Many of the roads are dirt and rugged.

One thing I've learned in the short while I've been here is to scan the horizon for smoke every time I go outside. Forest fires are frequent in the Arizona forests (and in Southern California).

As we were driving up the 500 feet elevation from the town where shopping is done here, we noticed a yellow-brown haze hovering over the next ridge ahead of us. It was the kind of thing found over many US major cities, but we both scanned for the source of the smoke. Once we found the chimney of smoke was narrow and from the east of where we were headed, we resumed our conversation and proceeded up the mountain.

The point is, there are behaviors that locals do particular to their environment. Don't go overboard, but if you can add something to convince the reader who has lived in a similar location that this is true, you are one step closer to moving them to dispense with disbelief.

The converse is true. Hubby's great aunt remarked once how a fairly famous writer had the moon rise over the Mid-western plains at 2:00 AM. She threw the book in the fireplace. The moon does not rise that late in the central plains states. Actually, it should be beginning its descent by then.

While I don't want novice writers to sweat blood over every detail, do pay attention to particulars that the locals would know are pure fiction, if you're asking them to move into the world you've created in your novel and believe it is real.

On the other hand, in SciFi or fantasy, it is sometimes useful to take a known item from our world, like the moon rising, and have it behave differently. That gives the novel an other world quality. So, maybe you want the moon to rise at noon. Then you can have the characters react to that, such as saying it will be clear for the battle or the journey at hand. I think it is handy to take an element from the setting that is familiar and guide the reader to translate that item into the unreal world.

Make sure what you add to your story is there for a reason, not just filling space. Write well, enjoy the process, and take your readers with you.

TIP: Get travel videos from the library and watch the locals in the background of the host.

PITCH: I rarely pitch, but Kathryn's Beach is an excellent example of setting contributing to the character of the MC. The link to purchase is in the left sidebar of this blog.

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