Deciding where to set your novel can be super fun (as Elle Woods would say), or it can induce a ton of stress on your already full mind. I say your mind is full because, if you’re a writer, your mind is always full. Anyway, sometimes it’s easy to get hung up on the setting because it’s such an important part of your novel, or is it?
Where your story takes place matters only as much as you want it to matter. If you’re writing a murder-mystery that takes place on a cruise ship, then you’ll need to heavily research cruise ships’ layouts, sailing schedules, the type of entertainment they offer, room sizes, how the ships are staffed, and many more details to make the story believable. However, if you’re writing a novel such as John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas, it really doesn’t matter where your story takes place. It could be a Chicago suburb, but it could just as easily take place in Pittsburgh, Boise, or Albany.
The first step in establishing setting, is to determine how big a role it will play in your specific story.
If the setting in your story will play a relatively insignificant role, you have two options…
1, Back to Basics: Pick a place you’re very familiar with, maybe your hometown or the place you’ve vacationed at every summer since early childhood. By picking a place you know so well, you won’t have to spend much time researching it or stretching your brain for believable details.
2. Expand Your Horizons: If, however, you want to get expansive, to learn about a place you’ve never been, then just have fun with it! Throw a dart at a map, and let the research begin! Better yet, if you have the time and money, pay the city (or town or beach) a little visit!
Bram Stoker spent seven years researching Eastern Europe to convincingly write about it in Dracula, since he’d never been there.
That would seem excessive, but remember, he didn’t have Google back then. Also, his book is a classic that will be revered, studied, and talked about long after we’re all gone! Thankfully, we would never have to spend years researching an area to include it as the backdrop of our story today.
If setting plays a crucial role in your story, then you must do the following…
- Decide what you’re trying to convey with your setting. Does it symbolize barrenness, hopelessness, peace, simpler times? What are you trying to tell the reader by setting the story in, say, Diomede, Alaska?
- Research, research, research! If setting is that important to the story, then you really need to get the details correct. When readers spot their own town in a novel, it opens the author up to criticism when he/she gets important details wrong, such as dialect, attitudes, or geographical details.
- Enlist YouTube to help with your research. You’ll be hard-pressed to turn up nothing if you search just about any place in the world on the platform.
- If at all possible, visit the area you plan to use as the backdrop of your story. Even if you know the place from a vacation there a few years ago, it may have changed.
Of course, you could go with a fictional town for your story’s setting…
- You could base it on an existing town, but have fun by taking some creative liberties. No one can criticize you since they won’t know you’re basing the setting on their city, right?
- You could tap into your childlike brain (remember all the fun we had playing imagination games?) and just run with a 100% made-up setting! That sounds fun. Terrifying, but great fun, especially if you’re writing something in the fantasy realm!
Need Inspiration on where to set your story?
Beautiful Cities in the United States
- Charleston, South Carolina
- Newport, Rhode Island
- Savannah, Georgia
- Honolulu, Hawaii
- Telluride, Colorado
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Sedona, Arizona
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Breathtaking International Locations
- Florence, Italy
- St. Petersburg, Russia
- Cape Town, South Africa
- Bruges, Belgium
- Edinburg and Leith, UK
- Jaipur, India
- Kyoto, Japan
- Chefchaouen, Morocco
- Queenstown, New Zealand
- Luang Prabang, Laos
- Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Bergen, Norway
- Halstall, Austria
Fictional Town Names
Check out this handy advice from Foodtruck.com that helps you create unique and memorable fictional towns!
Good luck! And remember, the best part of being a fiction writer is the fun you can have creating worlds from scratch! Unleash your inner child and create a setting that sends your readers in search of your city or town…regardless of whether it’s a real or fictional place!