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Clare and Chrissy talk Location, Location, Location.

Clare: and Chrissy: Hello! Thanks for taking time out of your busy pre-holiday season to join us. We’d like to jump right in this month by asking for a show of hands, how many of us indulged in some travel this past year? A family holiday, GayRomLit or a convention like the UK Meet, travel for work meetings, or maybe just a weekend trip to check out a local hotspot?

Chrissy: And, if authors, how many of us have a niggling little idea in the back of our head that we could use our destination in a future work?

Clare: Obviously we can’t really see everyone’s hands, but we’ll take a good guess that most of us gave them a good wave. Especially those of us still fresh from GRL. New Orleans is a city that just begs to be used in fiction.

Chrissy: Apart from …

Clare: Well, yes, obviously I won’t be committing THAT scene to paper, or repeating THAT conversation, or recalling THAT time when the margaritas flowed so freely, and I stumbled back to the hotel so bloody awkwardly …

Chrissy: Nuff said. So let me nudge everyone and ask, "what are you waiting for"?

Clare: So demanding (still sulking).

Chrissy: Which brings us to this month’s topic: Location, Location, Location. Yes, that wonderful catch phrase is not just for real estate anymore.

Clare: Aside from characters, names, and a kernel of an idea for plot, top of the authorly checklist is the question “where is my story taking place”.

Chrissy: And there is a myriad of answers.

Clare: Do we set our story in our own, tiny hometown or use a favorite vacation spot?

Chrissy: Would we be better off if we created a completely different world or city?

Clare: Then there’s the vague, never-defined mystery locale.

Chrissy: That one is always *my* favorite.

Clare: You’re kidding, right? You’ve set I don’t know how many stories in cities around the state of Michigan.

Chrissy: Who's keeping count?

Clare: Well, actually -

Chrissy: *glares* But that's purely by accident. I didn't start out to be a Michigan travelogue writer. I just get so excited I can’t help myself. I have to use the location in a story.

Clare: And it's one of your many literary strengths, my dear :). The sights and sounds and feelings come vividly alive for the reader.

Chrissy: Awwwh, thanks Honey!*thumps Clare on the virtual shoulder*

Clare: *rubs blossoming bruise* And what if the author happens to live outside the U.S., our largest book-buying market? We Brits enjoy, and are used to reading many stories set in the North American continent. But there are increasing numbers set in other countries - not just Britain, but Canada, Australia, Europe, Asia etc. Are American readers interested in stories set in other countries?

Chrissy: As one member of the American book-buying public, my answer is a resounding yes!! I'm quite looking forward to a slew of U.K. romances set against the backdrop of the Olympics. Just think of the possibilities; all those unattached tourists littering the English Countryside in search of a pint of lager, a packet of crisps, and the handsome bloke to sit beside and share them with.

Clare: You're an Honorary Brit, methinks :). Well, I think we need more of *you*.

Chrissy: *smirks* That's a given.

Clare: However, there are pluses and pitfalls inherent in each of these paths. It's enough to make a gal tear out her bangs (joke! joke! I wouldn't really use that phrase in the English countryside...).

Chrissy: I'm sure we've all read book reviews where a real location is used, and the reader notes that "you can't turn right at that intersection".

Clare: Google Earth will only take us so far! Anyone who knows me off-line, knows how geographically-challenged I am. And frankly, as an author, I have other aspects of my story to worry about.

Chrissy: The trouble is, nothing stays static. I lived in San Antonio for many years, but it was also many years ago. As in, Pre-Alamodome, Rivercenter Mall, and expanded Riverwalk. While I would love to use the city as background for a story, would a reader be unhappy if I wrote the city I remember so fondly? Is my old apartment complex still there? What about other landmarks? Should I feel compelled to research the city as it now stands?

Clare: I hear you - London changes on a daily basis. I drew up a map for some visitors to use last week, and by the time I'd sent it out, the name on the local pub had changed :). My vote is definitely for fresh research. I would come along, of course, as your margarita tester.

Chrissy: *rolls eyes* Of course.

Clare: How about historical fiction? Difficult enough to fit your story into a realistic timeline, what about meshing locations as well?

Chrissy: LOL. Some Regency Romance readers might think that England only had two cities, London, and Bath. Each surrounded by a never-ending supply of vast country estates. Research is definitely a must for any historical work, and while choices may be limited, some variety would be nice, too.

Clare: World building brings along its own set of woes. How involved do we make it? Should we draw out maps and building layouts of the entire town? How much time do we invest?

Chrissy: Do you think that's probably best decided by the scope and genre of the story? A small, Midwestern town might require less thought than an entire new planetary system.

Clare: Remember those paperback romances, the ones that would have a map in the front with a fake city starred on it?

Chrissy: Those used to baffle me. Now that I'm creating my own fiction I have a much better understanding of them. And what about the stories where our characters never leave their initial location? The characters who are in effect kept in a literary box?

Clare: *cough* you mean the claustrophobia of stories (like some of mine) that never move out of the same two rooms? And one of *them* is usually the bedroom?

Chrissy: *smiles fondly* I mean, that type of story forces the need for a more tightly written, character driven style.

Clare: Thanks, love. So many choices. It's amazing we ever get the story written at all.

Clare: and Chrissy: Tell us what you think! Readers, do you prefer the undefined location that lets you mentally flesh out the story to your liking? Or do would you rather read a story grounded firmly in reality? Authors, is Google Earth your friend? Everyone who comments on this post will be entered in our monthly random drawing for some sparkly Clare and Chrissy Swag. Winner to be announced at our next, monthly blog post.


October Winner: alex_beecroft- Congratulations! Please email your mailing address to Clare at clarelondon11@yahoo.co,uk for your festive Clare and Chrissy Swag.


Don't forget to check out Clare's latest literary travels in her Petit Morts releases, London Eye, and Media Naranja.

Jingle our balls bells to sneak a peek at our upcoming anthology release!



Missed any of our posts? Follow the 'sticky' post for these rambles of ours HERE.



Here's Chrissy! website // blog.



Here's Clare! website // blog.

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Comments

( 48 comments — Leave a comment )
chrissymunder
Nov. 16th, 2011 11:55 am (UTC)
Heheheh. I'm taking a snapshot of this page - Clare London caught using the word bangs instead of fringe. Let me rub my hands with glee at the future blackmail possibilities.
clarelondon
Nov. 16th, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC)
:P

I claim irony as my defence :). You'll have to master that, you know, if you want to keep your Honorary Brit status *smirk*.
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Nov. 16th, 2011 06:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clarelondon - Nov. 16th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - anne_barwell - Nov. 16th, 2011 09:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clarelondon - Nov. 16th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Nov. 16th, 2011 09:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Josephine Myles
Nov. 16th, 2011 12:55 pm (UTC)
I like to use real locations (preferably ones I know well), but I often fictionalise the exact details of things like names of restaurants/cafes/bars, as these change so frequently.

For my next novel (Handle with Care) I also took huge liberties with the geography of Reading, and put a skate park where there isn't one. I hope readers and Reading residents can forgive me ;P

Exotic locations? Bring 'em on!!!
clarelondon
Nov. 16th, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC)
I agree about changing the names to protect the innocent! I worry that if I use the real names, someone will one day find out and complain I've misrepresented them / their family / their decor etc LOL.

I should think Reading will be thrilled to have a new skate park LOL. Sez me, who squashed London and Essex together quite shamelessly and with little geographical truth in Freeman :).
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Nov. 16th, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
jenre
Nov. 16th, 2011 01:41 pm (UTC)
I like real locations in books because then I can travel to different parts of the world in my armchair especially if the author has provided lot of great description in the setting. I can understand why authors fear using a specific city though. It must be embarrassing to be caught out with a location mistake and I've read plenty of irate reviews where the reader has complained that the author has obviously never been to their much loved town/city.

The biggest thrill for me is when I find a book with a location either near me or from a place I've visited and know well. I loved your London set Freeman because of that. I also loved Muscling In by JL Merrow because I'd spent a lot of time in Cambridge when hub was studying there and I could picture the locations so clearly in my mind. Chrissy's Vegas set book was also a treat even though I've never been there because the setting was so vivid.

I once read a book which had a few scenes in Skipton, a town near me, and the book got brownie points just for that!

So I think it is important to consider having a real setting, no matter how time consuming some of the research into place might be.
clarelondon
Nov. 16th, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
I think that's the great bonus - travelling without the jetlag! LOL

And I agree with you - I love starting to read and then they mention a place near me, or somewhere I've been. I must admit, I don't look to "catch them out", so it's only if it's something horribly wrong that it jars. But it does sidle into my reading brain and establish a lovely sense of grounding.

Now you've encouraged me to set some more stories around my home turf! I think some authors think it'll be boring, purely because it'd familiar to *them*, but that's not the case. Every place has its own fascination, if the author paints it vivdly enough - whether good or bad :).
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Nov. 16th, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
jordan_c_price
Nov. 16th, 2011 02:08 pm (UTC)
What a fun topic! This post reminded me of a writing workshop I was in where a participant had been told she needed to ground her story better in its location. It was an area near my house so I was actually familiar with it. But the way she executed the inclusion of the location was so inexpertly done, detailing every last twist and turn of the road, it ended up being excruciating to hear her read aloud.

In her case, I think she was adding "location details" because someone had told her that her story felt unanchored. But those details hadn't informed the story, so they felt tacked on and unnecessary. It's almost like, once you choose your location and figure out which details of that location you're going to include, you need to go one step further and know for yourself, "So what does that mean?"

There's another story I read where the narrator kept mentioning it was "autumn" but the fact that it was autumn never impacted the story. I always thought it felt like a crit group had told the author they couldn't get a sense of time in the story so the author tacked it on later.

Then that boggles my mind, the notion that everything in a story needs to mean something. Thinking too hard about that can make me freeze up.
clarelondon
Nov. 16th, 2011 05:15 pm (UTC)
*sigh* It's certainly difficult to bring something into your writing if you didn't *feel* for it from the start. There's a world of difference between engaging the senses and describing how the reader should feel.

It's a bit like the character who describes himself - none of us does that in real life, do we? Yet as an author, we want to get info across. I once got criticised for not describing the looks of my character, but it never really occurred to me to stop and chat about his clothes and hairstyle :). It's all in the balance of telling and showing, I imagine.
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Nov. 16th, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
carolecummings
Nov. 16th, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC)
Ha. I solve the location problem by making my locations up. One of the perks of writing fantasy. ;) Of course, then you've got the tightrope of how much of the environment to explain to the reader. I prefer it when an author shows me what I need to know when I need to know it. Otherwise, it can be overdone and it bores me. I mean, LotR is my all-time favorite fantasy novel, but I really didn't need to know the color of the dirt at Helm's Deep.
clarelondon
Nov. 16th, 2011 05:10 pm (UTC)
*lol* hurrah for fantasy! And it looks like you also have perspective on the "let me show you all the ins and outs of my new world" issue :). I love fantasy when you can feel you're IN the world from the start, rather than watching it from outside, however marvellous it is. Cruel on the author, maybe, who's done so much fabulous work and wants to show it off - but it's also praise that they've been so successful, it's seamless.

But then, I'm of the "two rooms" school of writing, as we've said ad nauseam... LOL.
(no subject) - carolecummings - Nov. 16th, 2011 11:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Nov. 16th, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - carolecummings - Nov. 16th, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clarelondon - Nov. 17th, 2011 08:47 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - idamus - Nov. 18th, 2011 06:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - carolecummings - Nov. 19th, 2011 05:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - idamus - Nov. 20th, 2011 12:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
jl_merrow
Nov. 16th, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
I've used made-up cities, and real locations in my fiction - and I've realised the real locations come across much more vividly than the made-up ones! I do think authors are entitled to take liberties with locations for the benefit of the story, though - after all, we're writing fiction, not fact! :D
clarelondon
Nov. 16th, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean :). I think the real knowledge of a place seeps in without you even realising - it's subconscious. Also it doesn't fall foul of the "look at all the research I've done, I'm going to include it all in detail for you!" syndome.

But yes, some liberties are needed. I'm sure readers don't mind if you shift a few streets around, or set up a new shop. As you say, it is fiction! I'd hope people only get annoyed if you create something completely fictional but put a real place's name to it.

BTW my hubby does that all the time in movies - he'll shake his head and say "but that's not XXX railway station, it's YYY," or "That view is on the other side of that hill range". Maybe I'm glad he never reads my books LOL.
(no subject) - tiggothy - Nov. 17th, 2011 08:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clarelondon - Nov. 18th, 2011 09:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Nov. 16th, 2011 07:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
cdn_tam
Nov. 16th, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC)
I stumbled back to the hotel so bloody awkwardly

And yet when you ended up on your hands and knees in the middle of the sidewalk you were stone cold sober. At least I assumed so. Hmmm. It was 2:00 in the afternoon. Well past the time they start drinking in New Orleans.

Well, I'm Canadian, NOT American, but I like variety in my stories. Although if you do have them in the same two rooms the whole time it doesn't really matter. Sometimes the city or country has no bearing on the story, that's okay, it can be random anonymous city. I do like it when it's a real place though if you are going to have one. I assume it's accurate, but unless I've been there I'm winging it. However if I'm familiar with the place, oh I will look for errors. :-D I suppose it's a bit like writing other careers, you just know some nurse or teacher or accountant is going to e-mail you and go "you idiot, no one uses a butterfly bandage on a head wound." Ooops But they can't ALL be generic business men and BDSM club owners, so you do the best you can and most of us are good with that.

Personally, I do tend to use cities I know or at least regions of the country. You can be vague enough using mapquest and google to get the feel of a city. Is there a pancake house in downtown Calgary? Actually, no there's not. I found that out. If I write someone college age I prefer to set it in Canada, then I don't have to worry about the stinking drinking age thing. ;-) I need to expand out of Canada though. Maybe Prague.
chrissymunder
Nov. 16th, 2011 07:08 pm (UTC)
But they can't ALL be generic business men and BDSM club owners - Dang it, why not? LOL.

Do you think it would increase business to a local BDSM club if one time we used the actual directions/location in a story? Hmmmm.

I do feel using a place you've been adds an unerlying sense of familiarity to the story whether you mean to insert it or not.
(no subject) - cdn_tam - Nov. 16th, 2011 07:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jordan_c_price - Nov. 17th, 2011 05:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clarelondon - Nov. 17th, 2011 05:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
anne_barwell
Nov. 16th, 2011 08:07 pm (UTC)
I like reading stories set in different locations but bemoan the lack of locally set - for me - m/m stories. I know there are a few out there but mostly Auckland and other such places.

Writing wise, I've made up places, a village outside London which doesn't exist, used a setting that does exist that I had to do loads of research for to make sure I got it as right as I could as I haven't been to Germany, and set something locally. Setting something locally was great, actually being able to have my characters in places I knew though I was careful not to give names to some businesses etc (though anyone local would know immediately what it was) and when I needed a cafe I made one up.

Loads of research for the first two, already had the info on hand for the third but still the same amount of detail - I hope - in each. I think that's the thing, so your reader doesn't go - oh that person definitely has or hasn't been there! (apart from the fact that one can't visit an imaginary place but ignoring that for this discussion ;))
chrissymunder
Nov. 16th, 2011 09:32 pm (UTC)
I'll join you in the moan, because I'd love to read more fiction (of any kind) set in NZ. The possiblities of location are so varied. We get reruns of Coastwatch here on cable and while we haven't missed a show yet I like to see/read something inland.

And ah, the joys of research.
(no subject) - clarelondon - Nov. 17th, 2011 05:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - anne_barwell - Nov. 17th, 2011 08:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
stevie_carroll
Nov. 16th, 2011 08:55 pm (UTC)
I tend to use real locations, but make up or avoid mentioning the names of villages where the main action takes place. Mainly because of needing to move things around a little for the sake of plot.
chrissymunder
Nov. 16th, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
That's a nice mix of options. You have a framework and then play around as you choose.

Still sounds like cooking to me. Or chemistry. :)
(no subject) - clarelondon - Nov. 17th, 2011 05:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
egret17
Nov. 16th, 2011 11:45 pm (UTC)
Hmm, if you aren't using any of THOSE, Clare, you can't really write about NOLA at all, can you? ;p

I really enjoy reading books that are set in places with which I'm familiar. I definitely have a soft spot for stories set in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Paul MN. :)

Heck, I read books set in NOLA while I was in NOLA... :)
chrissymunder
Nov. 17th, 2011 12:29 am (UTC)
And she won't spill any totally outrageous details privately either. I think she's confusing NOLA with Vegas. *pout*
(no subject) - egret17 - Nov. 17th, 2011 12:33 am (UTC) - Expand
idamus
Nov. 18th, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC)
I prefer reading locations the writer knows, but am in no way limited by it, even better are the totally made up worlds :D
I wish there was more Scandinavian settings though
clarelondon
Nov. 21st, 2011 12:53 pm (UTC)
Hi, thanks for your comment and sorry for the late reply! I'm sure there are readers and authors in Scandinavia, we need to inspire them to share :).

I think a good author can make any setting feel real to the reader - that's the fun and reward of fiction.
(no subject) - idamus - Nov. 21st, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
( 48 comments — Leave a comment )

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