Monday, February 13, 2012

Where's Waldo-ing: Setting

Sometimes writers indulge in what I like to call Where's Waldo-ing: the act of hiding little aspects of oneself away in fiction. There are many ways to go about this, but today we're going to focus on setting--specifically, where the story takes place.  

(Time and circumstance would take all day...)
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How about a few famous examples?

  • Janet Evanovich was born in New Jersey.
    Her bestselling Stephanie Plum series takes place in New Jersey.

  • PC and Kristin Cast live in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
    Their bestselling House of Night series takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

  • Rachel Gibson lives in Idaho.
    Many of her books take place in Idaho.

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See, like most things, Where's Waldo-ing is fine in moderation. These authors paid homage to their respective areas, without making their stories feel like well-masked memoirs. There are a few ways to go about that:

  • Include some details. What do you know, as a resident, that other writers won't be able to grasp from afar? What does the area smell like? What's the weather like in April? How diverse is the community? What slang is used? What kinds of jobs are available there?
  • But not all of them. Don't give a shout-out to that little family-run coffee shop on the corner. By the time your book's in print, it could be out of business. If you're writing about a certain city/town, you want to be as authentic as possible... for as long as possible. Be vague, if you have to.
  • If all else fails, make stuff up. You know where STRENGTH takes place? Wilcox, Ohio. "But Carrie, there is no Wilcox, Ohio..." Exactly. In my made-up college town, I can incorporate all of my local experience, without the restriction of a predefined area. I get to map out every school, every shopping mall, and nothing will change--unless I say so. (Seriously. I made a map.) There's a lot of freedom in this option, but you'll still want to keep things grounded in reality. For example, I placed my made-up town in NE Ohio, but mentioned its proximity to other, real cities, like Columbus. 
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What about you guys? Ever written about somewhere you live/have lived? Have any tips to add?

Have a great week!

58 comments:

Kyra Lennon said...

I've had a battle deciding where to set my WIP, and I settled on a big city near to where I live. The good thing about that is that it feels like I'm writing something I know about, but putting in my own little twists.

I very nearly wrote a fictional town in the area, and actually, it still could happen. While I am still writing, the destination isn't as important as the fact that I know it's a city and I know how it looks in my head lol!

April Plummer said...

I like that - Where's Waldoing! Haha. I definitely do that. I think I can't help it. There's always a piece of me somewhere, either in my characters or in the setting or both. I don't create any characters to BE me, but there are pieces of me there. And, come to think of it, pieces of other people in lives also.

JeffO said...

One WiP takes place on Long Island where I grew up. There are some real places (Jones Beach, Hempstead Turnpike, Nassau County jail, though I've never been there) and some made up places. Another one takes place in a totally fictionalized town in rural New York, similar to where I live now....Where's Waldo, indeed.

I think the key is to provide enough flavor that anyone will be able to draw a reasonable picture in their own mind of what it's like, even if they've never been there before. Less is more is good advice, I think.

Julia King said...

My characters tend to have some minute details that I have. Like the MC in my book under submission has a heart-shapped face with a widows peak like me. Just small things like that.

BTW, I've tagged you on my blog with 11 questions. I noticed you've already been tagged. Answer the questions if you'd like but don't think you have to tag again, unless if you want. :)

Here's the link:

http://juliawritingjewelsking.blogspot.com/2012/02/tag-im-it-chocolate-chip-ice-cream-with.html

Great post!

Cassie Mae said...

One of my books takes place who knows where, lol. A town, city, or even street road isn't mentioned once. I did this on purpose so that whoever was reading could imagine the mc wherever they wanted to. Next door, across the country, whatever. :)

Tina Moss said...

My co-written MS takes place in NYC, my hometown. But, the characters also travel to Vegas. In my two new works, it takes place in Phoenix, then moves to Calgary, and the other one takes place in Washington D.C. The Phoenix and Calgary settings were tough because I've never been to either of these places. But, some Waldos do show up in character traits, phrases used, etc.

Emily R. King said...

Write what you know, right? I like to write about small towns AND big cities, but I prefer to live in small towns. It's amazing where your mind will take you even if you never want to GO there in real life. Ha!

Leigh Covington said...

I love it. I especially love adding your own made up part of the world to what you already know. Brilliant idea! Especially if I get to make my own map. Yes, I think that would be extremely fun!

Linda said...

One of my projects is set in Scottsdale, AZ , where I used to live, and I've avoided mentioning too many businesses. I do have some landmarks mentioned (like Scottsdale Fashion Square which is a ginormous mall that probably isn't going anywhere and Sky Harbor, the airport.) but I tried to avoid being like, "Oh, we went to that Starbucks on the corner of Indian School and Scottsdale Rd," because who knows how long it'll actually be there. I mean, it's been over a year since I've been in that neighborhood, it could be gone already! Stuff is always moving and shutting down.

I usually keep my settings vague, though, unless there's a reason the setting is important. I like the idea of making up your own, I'm just not very good at stuff like that :P

Lynda R Young said...

I've never written about the area I live in--unless it's set in the future and then, well, it's not really the area I live in ;)

I have made up a town in a real area however. That's lots of fun. I love the freedom.

twentysomethingfictionwriter said...

Haha! I definitely do this. I am from the midwest and pay homage quit frequently to it and my college is very similar to my 3 colleges that I went to over the years. I take elements of coffeehouses, professors I've had, and all kinds of references to my childhood as well. I love what you call this by the way :)

jamieayres said...

I set my last book in Grand Haven, MI, which is where I spent my summers after my parents divorced & my Dad moved there. My first book I set in Orlando, where I lived for 7 yrs. The book I'm writing now is set in Cape Coral, FL, where I currently live . . . so yes! I do this for sure:) I make stuff up when needed, but try to keep it as authentic as possible. Some are tiny coffee shops in the stories, but they've been around forever & are a staple in the community. You never know, your setting could be the next "Forks" & if you bring in tourism for the city, what a bonus:):)

Iain said...

There are a few places in all of the books I've written. It'll be interesting to see if you guess the ones in my MS when you (finally) get to read it.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I wrote a book (that will never see the light of day) that in essence, explained why an area by where I grew up (that was always a mystery to us) was the way it was. In my current book, it's a big ole no. Unless you count the fact that I "visited" it through google maps. But... then I blew it up with a gigantic bomb, fast forwarded a few decades, and put new people living there.

I love when authors use made up towns in real states, and make it like a town would be in that state. It's my favorite way to go!

P.S. The color on your wood in the background makes me all kinds of happy. Excuse me for a minute while I just stare....

JEFritz said...

I've done a few Waldo settings. It's fun to play with places you know, throw in new things and the like. Most of my stuff takes place in different times, though, so there isn't much similarity. But sometimes I throw in something anyway.

Alleged Author said...

Love the whole idea of including setting details many people wouldn't know just by glancing at Google maps. Great post!

Botanist said...

I was just about to say I've never lived on a Ringworld, or on another planet fifteen thousand years into the future. Then I remembered, one of my WIPs starts off in a near-future climate-ravaged Oxford University, and I include a few geographical details along the way.

Megan said...

The title of this post is great! I start thinking about most every story by having it happen here where I live (Boston) and then as it develops, the location moves to wherever makes sense for the story. Like Peggy, I am obsessed with the (on my computer) dark blue grained wood in your background. I want it in my house. And I want a house. :)

Lindsay N. Currie said...

Ooh, good post. This topic makes me nervous actually, because locations can be so tricky. I like what you did with strength and that's what I would normally do, especially if the book took place somewhere outside of my specific knowledge. Except for Silo - um, I've never lived in a missile silo before. But, that's where the gobs of research came in I guess:)

Lisa L. Regan said...

Hold Still is the first time I've written about somewhere I actually live. I just love making up towns. That's the very best. Unfortunately most of my books are set in large urban areas and it feels weird to make up a large city. I think a small to mid-sized town is fine but I always feel like people won't find it believable if I make up a whole city! And by the way, pretty much all writers get Philly wrong. I don't know if it's them lying about actually having lived here or if they edit the odd details out!

Melodie Wright said...

I always write about places I've lived. Helps that I've lived a lot of places...and I love revisiting them mentally. And when I need an update, Google earth is awesome.

Natasha Hanova said...

Great post! I'm like you when it comes to this. I make up a city and place it near one people are familiar with. I make my own maps, too.

Recently, wrote a zombie short story (my characters made me do it) based in St. Louis, MO, though I don't live there. I used Google earth like some of the other writers. It allows you to zoom in and pan around as if standing on the street.

Lori M. Lee said...

Great post! I love taking an existing city and adding hidden layers to it.

Also, I'm from the same YA group as you in the campaign, and wanted to say hi :D

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks, April! Real life inspiration definitely adds dimension to our stories. :)

By the way, did you see the award I gave you the other day? I completely forgot to tell you. D'oh!

Carrie Butler said...

Oo, you'll have to let us know what you decide. I think it sounds great, either way! :)

Carrie Butler said...

I love a mix of real and made up places!

Ooo, I like that. Just enough "flavor" to picture it. Well said! :)

Carrie Butler said...

The little details are the best! I think they really give a heart and soul to our stories. :)

Oh, cool! I'll be sure to head on over!

Lydia Kang said...

I have written a novel that takes place in my town now, but part of it took place in NYC (where I also lived) but I had to research some places because I'd never been there, like the NY public library. That was weird!

Joylene said...

I've written (counting on fingers...) 6 novels and all but one takes place in my hometown or home province or at least Canada. I remember when my second novel came out and a reviewer mentioned how much he enjoyed reading about his town in my books. He said it was the reason he bought the book in the first place. Reading what he wrote reminded me that readers really are real people. As opposed to unreal people.

Carrie Butler said...

Maybe we should start calling you Cryptic Cassie! ;)

Carrie Butler said...

Whew! You're all over the map, Tina! Ah, yes. Waldos can show up in many different ways. :)

Carrie Butler said...

Exactly! It is, isn't it? ;)

Carrie Butler said...

It is fun! You should give it a try. (Especially the map part!) :)

Talli Roland said...

Oh, I definitely have! Sometimes on purpose, sometimes... not.

Written Words said...

Hi. I saw your name in the Platform Building Campaign, and thought "I recognize that name! She's one of my Twitter followers, and I'm one of hers!" Nice to read your blog.

As for Waldo, I have put some bits of Montreal (where my wife lived) into a story I have not published, and I placed my story, Sam, the Strawb Part, in Ottawa, but I have few details. I have never been to most of the setting of my first published novel, The Bones of the Earth.

What I do like to do is put people I know into my stories as characters. I'm hoping that someday, one will say "is that supposed to be me?"

Carrie Butler said...

Good point, Linda! Landmarks are usually safe, because they're not going anywhere. (Or so we hope!)

I liked the setting in No Fear. I wanted to go to that sushi place with them! ;)

Carrie Butler said...

This is very true. ;) Oh yes. I love the freedom, too!

Carrie Butler said...

Oo, which part of the Midwest? :D I do that, too. Fragments of memories, elements here and there. Good stuff!

Thank you! :)

Carrie Butler said...

Oh, I love that point, Jamie! Using a real life area could definitely have an impact on tourism! :)

Dawn Montgomery said...

I guess every writer does a bit of Waldo-ing. I can't say I've ever set a story in a place I've lived...exactly. Well, none of them that are published, anyway. Things change too quickly. I like making up my towns. :)

Carrie Butler said...

Can't wait! :D

Carrie Butler said...

Aww... can we read it at night? :)

Whew! I'm glad you never "visited" my town through google maps. Look what happened to that place! ;)

Thank you, Pegasus! I tinted a tileable wood grain to get the right mood. :D

Carrie Butler said...

Fun, isn't it? :D Thanks for stopping by, JEFritz!

Carrie Butler said...

Thank you! :D

Carrie Butler said...

They all sound so interesting! How do you do it? :)

Carrie Butler said...

I love that, Megan! It's like the location unfolds around the story. Very cool. :)

Oh, thanks! I tinted a tileable wood grain to set the right "vibe". :D

Carrie Butler said...

Thank you, Lindsay! :) What? You've never lived in a missle silo before? Everything I've ever believed about you is a lie! *grins* Actually, I love that you put so much research into your work. :D

Carrie Butler said...

Hold Still felt (from what I've read) so flippin' real, though! It had the city vibe down. Seriously. :) Good point about making up a large city. That would be pretty hard to pull off!

Carrie Butler said...

The perk of being a well-traveled woman! It's a good thing I know one... ;)

Carrie Butler said...

I knew there had to be someone else who did that! :)

Hah! I love that your characters made you do it. Perfect excuse! Oh yes. Google Earth is fantastic.

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks, Lori! Oo, layers. I love that. :D Hi!

Carrie Butler said...

Oo, a half Waldo! (...That sounds like a skateboarding trick, doesn't it? LOL) Using a combination of memories and research must have added so much depth! :)

Carrie Butler said...

You're a writing machine, Joylene! I love hearing about the experiences you have with your "real people" readers. That must be so rewarding! :)

Carrie Butler said...

Hey, whatever works! :D

Carrie Butler said...

Hey! I recognize your name, too. Thanks for stopping by! :)

It sounds like a nice mix of places. By the way, I love that title (The Bones of the Earth). I'll have to check it out!

Now the real question is: Will you answer those people honestly? *grins*

Carrie Butler said...

Good point, Dawn! I like to make up my towns, too. Thank you for stopping by! :D

Rebekah Loper said...

Hi Carrie, I'm making my way through the YA group slowly but surely!

I'm tickled pink that you mention PC Cast and Tulsa, Oklahoma because I live in Tulsa! PC Cast was a friend's art teacher in grade school, and she was also one of my husband's clients when he worked at one of the local craft stores. She came in off and on to have her book covers framed :). Sadly, that was before he and I were dating, and so I've never met her.

And settings . . . well, I typically write fantasy, so I've never actually had something take place somewhere that actually existed. I think if I ever wrote something set in this world, though, I would have it be set somewhere I've lived and/or visited so that I could make it realistic.

Carrie Butler said...

I know the feeling, Rebekah. It's quite the daunting task!

Oh, cool! Oklahoma has such great authors, e.g. PC Cast, Gena Showalter, Jill Monroe, etc. I'm jealous! :)

Fantasy, hm? Sounds fun! :D