Over the past months we've discussed the basics of fiction, paying special attention to creating tight plots and memorable characters. Now we're going to look at the importance of choosing relevant locations and where to set your stories for best effect.
Readers have become used to modern fiction being set in real places which has created the need to identify. People like things that feel real. One of the advantages of setting your story in a specific location, say New York, Paris or London, is that the reader fills in the details.
Place a reader in a nebulous, unfamiliar environment and they can feel lost unless you describe the place fully - which may in turn hinder your ability to pace the action and develop the characters. If you present a fictional town, some readers will baulk and cry: well, if that's not real, how can I begin to believe anything else this author tells me! They may feel cheated that you, as the author, are playing God and consequently can shape the 'rules' in your world. This may hinder their willing suspension of disbelief.
That said, there are advantages to creating a make-believe setting - whether it be a room, a house, a street, a town or even a whole country. First of all the writer's imagination can have full rein, secondly it saves time on research - it can take a lot of time to check out how real places look, feel and operate, and thirdly no-one can say you've got sometning wrong - because it can't be wrong. With make-believe too, you needn't worry about things like train and bus schedules, what time the sun sets, what kinds of flowers bloom and where etc., you've also got free rein on architecture, streets, shops, even type of housing estates.
All that said, I favour real locations - for both Time & Destiny and A Type of Beauty, which are historical, I walked London, Paris and Agra, and enjoyed chosing specific settings. I also used the architecture of the era, furnishings, colour schemes etc. For my contemporary works, Once Upon a Summer and Felicity's Wedding, I paid attention to office, home and pub settings, as well as clothes and food. I find the choice of locations and all that goes with them not only fascinating but by trial and error I've also discovered they provide an immediate authenticity. I hope you will too.
Good writing. We all have plenty of extra down-time over Christmas!