When I first started writing, I had to figure out where I was going to set my stories. I’m a Canadian married to a sweet-talking American living just south of Pittsburgh; settled in a rural area for fifteen years. To me it was obvious – set the story in Toronto, my hometown and where I spent most of my life.
But I was told it’d be a foreign setting by other authors and unfamiliar to many readers; so I should take that into consideration where and when I started writing.
To me it wasn’t an issue. But to some of my readers, specifically my husband, I might as well placed my characters on the moon.
For all the similarities between Canada and the United States there’s still areas that are very much Canadian and very much reflect the culture. For example – a private investigator would automatically be assumed to be able to carry a weapon in the US. In Canada a PI is just the same as anyone else; subject to the same gun controls and regulations as a civilian. A criminal could get a weapon, of course – it’s not like pistols and shotguns don’t exist in Canada – but it might not be as easy to explain away if stopped by a policeman.
The same holds true for all “foreign” settings – be sure to do the research and know what differences there are between what you’re used to and what the audience will be expecting. If you set a story in London you’ll have even more stringent gun control and having a shootout between the police and a gang of crooks might be difficult to set up – it can still happen but you’ll have to spend a bit of time explaining how it came together; something you wouldn’t have to worry as much about if you set it in Philadelphia instead.
Almost all of my books have been set in Toronto, and many of my Canadian readers might recognize certain neighborhoods and shopping centers although some have changed with time. But if I were to set my books in another city I’d be sure to do my research before writing; visiting if I had the time and money. I’ve been a big fan of Robert Parker and his Spencer novels for decades and know that if I ever went to Boston (and I did once, for a Worldcon!) that I’d be able to literally go over most of the same paths the fictional Spencer and Hawk have due to the details in the book. Never discount the power of having the city become almost another character in your book; adding a flavor that marks it as apart from those set in generic settings.
This isn’t to say that you can’t imagine and create new cities – J.D. Robb’s New York City is decades ahead of our own and in an alternative universe where cars fly and technology has drastically changed the way we live but it’s still New York City with it’s own unique people and charisma; just slightly different. In my “Tales on the Edge” series the stories take place aboard the Bonnie Belle, a spaceship and also on mining bases set in asteroids and populated by weary men and women drilling out the interiors, their work only interrupted by the arrival of courtesan ships like the Belle. But what make the Belle different from the Serenity, from the Enterprise, from the Millennium Falcon is the ship’s personality – whether they talk or not.
An imaginary setting can be almost more alive than an actual village or city. Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove almost steals the story from the characters, the rich descriptions and vivid images forming the perfect background for her Regency English romances.
If you’re placing your story in a real city or town, do your research and see what gives that place its particular flavor – do they have street festivals? Do they have specific neighborhoods known for their foods or for their culture? Grab tourism guides and see what you can incorporate into your story if you can’t actually visit the city. If you’re creating an imaginary setting, think about what drew people to that area. What prompted it to be settled so many years ago – was there a gold mine nearby; a fertile area producing extra produce? A strategic point to fight battles from or to defend the frontier – an outpost on the edge of civilization at that time, calling the brave and the daring to settle here. From there you can extrapolate what your town would be like; how the local politics could go and what attitudes the residents would hold. You don’t have to dump all of this into your book but it’s excellent background to have on hand for making your characters, from the main ones to the secondaries, more realistic and centered.
Writing wonderful characters is only part of the story, in my opinion – having a lovely, complicated background for them to romp through makes everything that much more realistic and increases the reader’s enjoyment of your story. Why not go back and reread some of your favorite books and see if you agree with my thoughts?
Coming October 20th, 2016
Hooded Pleasures, Book 1
Kate Dubois is a Domme-for-hire for the highly exclusive Hooded Pleasures, a service offering private BDSM sessions to those who can’t—or won’t—risk appearing in an actual club.
Lately, though, she wonders if professional burnout is causing her to have painful flashbacks to a past heartbreak. When her boss insists her next client will be a breath of fresh air, Kate reluctantly agrees to an interview.
Alex Hanson dominates the world of computer game programming, but secretly he suspects he might be a sub in the bedroom. There’s only one good way to find out—hire a professional to show him the ropes.
Their first meeting puts both of them to the test—Alex’s self-control, and Kate’s realization she might just like him a little too much. But there’s no denying their emotions are inextricably entangled…a dangerous step Kate’s not sure her heart is prepared to take.
Warning: Contains a hard-core computer geek with a tender side, and a Domme who can’t afford to expose her greatest weakness—him. Geekery combined with flogging. Enjoy!