Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Where do you set your stories?

Or to put this question another way – would you ever set a story somewhere you’ve never been?

I’ve met authors who do and they don’t seem to have a problem. They feel they can get enough of a feeling for a place through reading about it, or through film and television.

But for me that isn’t enough.

You see there’s more about a country than can be gleaned from the web – every place ‘feels’ different, smells different, and it’s these small things that bring a place to life, the telling details, the rats in the market place, the smell of spice on the old man’s fingers, squabbling gulls on the harbourside.

So you’ll find that most of my stories are set in places I’ve visited.

But not always.

Sometimes it’s simply not possible to visit the place you want to write about. And in these cases decent research is vital. I once read a story a friend of mine had set on the Moon. He made me believe he had flown through space and walked on that lunar surface, even though I know he hasn’t! But it was those telling details that convinced me.

So have you ever set a story somewhere you’ve never been?

20 comments:

  1. I'm currently trying to find a setting for a series I want to work on but have no idea where. I've been to several areas of the US, but not to any of the places I'm thinking of for the story. So research is going to be vital in this instance, if I can make up my mind. But I'm still wary about it.

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    1. I visited the US (Florida) for the first time last year but I'm told that no part is truly representative of any other! So yes, I agree - research will be vital!

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  2. I not only set my stories in places I've never been but in the distant past, which is even harder to reach! On the plus side, no-one's likely to come up to me and say 'sixteenth century Poland was much colder than in your book'. I'm with Steph Penney with 'The Tenderness of Wolves' - imagination can fill in the gaps.As you say, it's details, the reader will fill in the rest.

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  3. I think it depends, really. When it comes to foreign countries, I wouldn't really "set" a whole story there without having been there, lived there. Thus, if I write about foreign countries, I write about Japan, where I've lived three times.

    Here in the US is a little different. I'm a lot more confident with just researching settings I've never been to, probably because it's still in my country and still an extent of my own culture. I can tell you, I've read some books set in Japan that not only showed absolutely no research, but was rife with awful stereotypes.

    Then again, this is why I just mostly make up my own worlds. :P

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    1. Ah yes, that is exactly the sort of pitfall I was thinking of. I so hate it when you get pulled out of a story by some glaring error that shows the author hasn't done their research!

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  4. I have set my stories in many places, lots of imaginary ones, lots of far in the future versions of real places (where I have been and not been), and contemporary places (doesn't matter whether I have visited or not). To me it makes no difference whether I have visited a place. I look at pictures and maps and let my imagination do the rest. We are writers, and unless we write non fiction about the place, we can write whatever we dream up. It's fiction, not reality.

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    1. This seems so risky to me. How do you avoid the pitfalls mentioned by the previous commentator?

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  5. My current WiP is set in a futuristic Egypt. I've never been to Egypt (or to the middle east, for that matter), but I feel comfortable taking some creative license because it's set in the future. If it was a contemporary story, I think I would be hard pressed to set it somewhere I haven't been, because someone will pick it up and find in inauthentic.

    New follower here via GFC! My blog is nickieanderson.blogspot.com

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  6. Ah yes, I do like to go futuristic myself - and then of course things have changed. And Egypt is a fanstastic place! Well worth a visit!

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  7. Nope, not set a story in a place I haven't been to at least once yet. That's not to say I won't. I'm toying with the idea of setting my next novel on a virtually deserted island in the Outer Hebrides...but don't know if I should go and live alone on one for a couple of weeks first.

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    1. Would make a great writing retreat! I'd be sorely tempted!

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  8. I've never been to the planet Nakis. Twelve light years away is further than my legs can take me, but I've been quite a few places where I felt out of place, not quite settled, or remote. I think that fiction writers who really enjoy creating a sense of place in their work can always create convincing settings whether or not they have trodden there themselves.

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    1. Ah yes, the planet Nakis - That one will have to wait until they invent the hyperdrive! But at least no-one can tell if you've got the colour of the sky wrong!

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  9. My stories are set in Victorian London. A lot of what I conjure up to describe the squalid streets comes from my memories of Liverpool in the late sixties and early seventies when I was a (tiny) child (honest!)Liverpool's a great place but then, like most cities it was black with dirt and thick with smoke.

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    1. Ha! Yu've just brought back memories - I used to go up there to visit my Gran in the 70's and I do indeed remember the soot blackened buildings - they've cleaned them up now! Agreed - Liverpool rocks!

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  10. Very, very frequently. As an SF/fantasy author it's kind of hard not to! Capturing a "real" place is different, of course, and I certainly draw on places I have visited.

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    1. I guess we SF/F writers have it easy - even a real place - in the future - will have seen many changes!

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  11. Writing both SFF and historical fiction, inevitably yes. I also agree with Richard when he says fiction writers who really enjoy creating a sense of place in their work can always create convincing settings whether or not they have trodden there themselves.

    But two caveats:

    (i) consistency. If Nakis has a purple sky then it needs to stay purple (mauve/lavender/plum).

    (ii) credibility: if it is in a real place then it has to map on to what is/was there in a credible way. If it's set in central London after 1843 then it needs Trafalgar Square and Nelson's Column, or a good reason why not.

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    1. I bet the sunsets on Nakis are beautiful!

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