Monday, January 19, 2009

Location, Location, Location

Yes, we all know that to be an important factor in the real estate game, but is it an important part of writing a story? You bet it is. In my opinion however, I think there are different things to think about when choosing a primary location when you are writing horror vs. crime fiction.

When it comes to horror, there is always the option of creating a ficticious town or city with points of reference that have no bearing on reality. In some ways, that does help to make the 'horror situation' a bit more believable, I think. Of course, that all depends on what type of horror story you're writing. If you're writing about creatures and the like, sometimes it comes across a little bit better when you've made up the locale. If a real place is referenced though, it is very important to be as accurate as you can be. Make sure you are very familiar with the city and its streets and landmarks because when you run into a reader that's from that place, trust me - they will catch any and all mistakes should you make any. So and so street doesn't run east and west - it runs north and south, or such and such hotel is off main street, not on it. Once something like that happens, you've lost the reader and then it won't matter how good the rest of the story is. They won't read any more of it. I sure wouldn't.

You also have to make sure that whatever real places you reference can accommodate the horror you are bringing to it. Be careful when you decide to have to evil spirits duke it out downtown and turn landmarks into dust. It's a bit easier for the mind to conjure up a picture like that when it's occurring on main street in 'insert your town name here' as opposed to on main street in Seattle.

When planning a primary location for a horror story, consider first what type and what magnitude of horror you plan to inflict on it. That should assist you in making the decision as to whether you should scope out a map, or pull a name out of the air.

When it comes to crime fiction however, I think it's a whole different ballgame. You have pretty much a free reign when it comes to this genre. I personally have always been intrigued with the nameless, rainy, always-on-the-edge-of-nightfall type of place. This type of location seems to invite any and all types of crime. You don't have to be concerned with what hotel the killer is hiding in or what streets the police are staking out. Make them up as you go along. Concentrate on the characters, the events, the suspense, the chase... If you are going to use a real place to base your story in, that works really well for crime fiction since crime can happen anywhere. Too, you don't have to limit yourself to certain types of crimes or certain types of criminals either. Anything goes. But again, I cannot stress enough the importance of accuracy.

With crime fiction, you are not dealing with giant lizards or ghosts from the great beyond. You are writing about people. Now your criminals are going to be crazy, cruel, clever, psychotic, dangerous, whatever qualities you decide to give them, but remember, they will still be people. I think the reader will be much more sensitive to the accuracy of a location when the human element is involved. They will not be caught up in so and so's sharp talons or capabilities with casting spells. They will be paying very close attention to what apartment building the victim lives in that the killer is stalking. Maybe they were born there. Or, they will be trying to picture themselves standing in line at the bank on the corner of wherever when the armed robbers storm in, since they just opened an account there last week.

Again, if you plan to use real places, never guess and hope no one will notice. People love to read stories that are based in their home state, city, town, whatever, and they will be watching you like a hawk to make sure you did the place justice. Make up your locations from start to finish or do plenty of research or even visit the place you decide to use to familiarize yourself with it and those who live there. That's important too, you see, if you want to keep it believable. If people who live in a small town are a very close-knit group and hesitant to accept outsiders, you wouldn't want to have your character arrive one morning and be greeted with open arms and a ticker-tape parade. It just won't do.

Whatever genre you're working with, your base location is very important. It will not only help you to grab your readers, it will most certainly help you to hold on to them too.


  1. I so know what you mean. It's one of the reasons I've spent years researching the holy lands because I can't actually go there but I know I have to get it right even if my subject is set 2000 years ago. People know their regions and they are turned off by writers who don't do their homework. The movie Harry and the Hendersons was a fun family movie for my girls but it irked me something fierce because they moved around freeway signs and the geography of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest and as much as I enjoy other parts of the movie I generally skip the whole thing. Yes, know your location and learn it well enough to live there without maps.

  2. Sherey, you really said it. "know your location and learn it well enough to live there without maps".

    As writers, we want everybody to read our stories and novels, and that means everybody from everywhere. All it is going to take is one reader from the city we use and mess up on the streets or bridge placement, then comes the best (or worst, depending) publicity, that of 'word of mouth', and the potential is there to lose a whole crowd of everybody's out there.

    I use made up towns and so on, and I can only hope none of the names I use EVER really correspond to a real one that even barely resembles mine!