The location where you choose to set your story can make all the difference, so this week, Shirley discusses locations.
It can help transport the reader from her living room to somewhere exotic, perhaps somewhere she’s always longed to go, that she dreams of, that tops her bucket list. Or maybe she spent her honeymoon there, or family holidays, and it’ll bring back wonderful memories. It can bring your story to life for her.
For this reason you’ll want your portrayal of this place to sound authentic.
Does that mean you have to have been to this location yourself? In a word, no.
It’s easier than ever before to “see” what a place is really like, with all the online map apps, StreetView and so on. You can be “strolling” down Fifth Avenue, New York without ever setting a toe in the US.
I had a writer who had his characters meeting in a juice bar, and I had a laugh with him via email, at this insight into an unexpected aspect of his world. “Me?” he said. “I’ve never been in a juice bar in my puff! But I’m a good listener to those who have.”
See? One of those times when you didn’t have to be there.
You can pepper your text with just enough detail of your chosen location to sound convincingly authentic.
But what if you have been somewhere? Say, Amsterdam. It’s perfectly natural that you’ll want to air and share your insider knowledge of the city. You’ll describe the tree-lined canals, the ranks upon ranks of bicycles, trams rumbling through the streets, the tall gabled houses leaning against each other.
But it’s important to remember that this is only the setting for your story. It’s the backdrop. The location shouldn’t distract the reader from the story itself.
Think about a theatre drama. The actors are centre stage. You watch them and follow the story through their interpretation. The backdrop merely adds context. It’s behind them.
It’s the same with a story. The characters are who the reader will engage with. It’s what’s happening to them that they’ll come to care about. You don’t want them to be overwhelmed by your desire to show how much you know about Amsterdam. Because if you do, the backdrop takes centre stage and your characters might as well be behind the curtain.
The test is to write your story with its exotic location and then transpose it to an ordinary semi in Chichester, Coventry or Cumbernauld. The story should still be just as compelling.
Remember: the setting is just scenery.