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Location, Location, Location.

January 18, 2012

Today’s writing topic is Location. The place where you set your story. Be it a room, a bustling city or a world pulled from your imagination, location influences your characters and can become part of the story in its own right.

We will take a look at a few elements of location in this post.

  1. How does location affect the characters
  2. Reinforcing the old adage: “Write what you know.”
  3. Location becoming a character.

How does Location affect the Characters? Well location informs the characters as to where they are. The actions they could possibly take are limited to an extent by where they are. A jail cell for instance would immediately deny the characters a green lawn on which to duel with rapiers. On the other hand, knowing that the characters are in a jail cell implies as to what sort of person they may be. Any sort of dueling in this place is bound to be gritty, a matter of life-and-death and a good way to provide drama.

Likewise putting your character in a courtroom might suggest a legal battle is about to ensue. Is he/she a plaintiff, prosecutor, defense attorney? Again, the place helps shape what the story is going to be about. Locations are set pieces. They should carry enough detail to make the reader know the basics and maybe even some embellishments. Most people are familiar with both jail cells and courtrooms. It is not too hard to imagine what one might look like. However, increasing some of the details can enhance the effect. Showing the reader that the cell is 9 feet long and 3 feet wide by cramming the characters together brings out the claustrophobic thoughts.

Perhaps you are telling a high fantasy story and have a throne room. A few choice decorations can tell the reader about the owner easily. For instance a dimly lit room with a cold draft is likely the throne room of a rather callous ruler. Conversely a bright, warm room makes you feel like things will work out in this kingdom.

Reinforcing ‘Write What You Know’. I was taught that when writing, if you talk about things that you are familiar with you can give a greater and more believable sense of the people and places. Binding the truth into your story gives it validity that cannot be found in an outright fictional tale about something you know nothing about. I find it much easier to write something that takes place where I have been before. For example in: A Deliverance of Justice I put the main character and the story on the banks of the Susquehanna river in Harrisburg.

With all of the world to draw on for a work of fiction why would I choose that river and city? Simple: I lived there for two years. I know what the morning is like along the water, how the sun and clouds are colored and what sort of smells even are drifting around. I brought my personal memories to the written page and came away with (I think) one of my best scenes, regardless of how the rest of the story turned out. I try to observe things like weather, smells, the feel of the air and the sounds that surround me. They all become pieces of data to flesh out a location, in turn making the place more alive to a reader.

Location Becoming A Character. One possibility is that the location will become a character unto itself. Meaning that were you to change the location the story might fall apart. Location is usually a supporting character and it can be either for or against the main character. For instance if you have a young child lost in a city. The city has the potential to make the child’s journey either more difficult or safe and comfortable. Deeper still the story may tell of a person’s relationship with the city that they live in.

How a character interacts with the location can tell you if the place is really a character or just a set. If the character is concerned with something of the place (a landmark for instance) or they have an attachment to the place or a place of spiritual/physical strength it is likely that the location is a character. If the place is merely described and the characters move through it will little thought or consideration, then you know it is a simple set. Pretty to look at but not much else going on.

So there you go, a few simple thoughts on how location can influence your story and characters.  Let the good times roll on into the comments if you like!

Thanks for reading.



From → Writing

  1. Excellent point! I am writing a book that takes place in the south of France and I am using my memories of the places we visited.

    • Awesome, best wishes on your project! Travel is a great source of inspiration for me, both the desire to go and the various places I have been. Thanks for reading!S.

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