Monday, June 25, 2012

A Sense Of Place

"Fair Catch", my new coming-of-age romance, is set in the imaginary city of Riverside. So, where is it? 

Place is usually quite important in fiction. A good sense of place, good descriptions,  make a book feel real. Riverside is mostly Midwestern, but it is not a renamed actual place. It's a combination of real and imaginary geography. 

Much of the novel takes place outdoors -- bike trails, parks, football stadiums, the fields around the town. Some of the locations are based on real places and some are entirely made up. I didn't want to be limited too much by having to stick to the details of a real town, in case I needed to create a setting to meet the demands of the plot, and also details of real places can change over time, which could be confusing to readers expecting the spot they knew. I didn't want a reader to get too hung up on my accuracies or inaccuracies, either, because I'm sure I would have made some errors if I'd tried to hew to every detail of a real place. But alert readers will notice that my Riverside is heavily influence by two college towns I have visited many times: Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Lawrence, Kansas. 

However, Austin, Texas, where one of the characters eventually goes to college, is real, of course, and to write that place, I relied on my memories of visiting there, as well as a friend who was in graduate school at the time the book was first being drafted. She was helpful with details about the restaurants, the strip, etc. I chose to create a university there instead of placing my protagonists at University of Texas, for the same reasons I made Riverside up instead of trying to accurately depict, in every detail Lawrence, Stillwater, Fayetteville or Joplin.

I hope my fictional town seems real enough to give the characters a plausible backdrop, but not so real that it's distracting. Unlike a book set in Paris, New York, Boston, or some other legendary and famous real place, the setting here doesn't have to be an additional character in the story! It just has to seem familiar and grounding, like home.  

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