A Sense of Place

Place is important in fiction, especially if the writer is using a real setting. It’s important to do your homework.

One of the books that inspired me to write urban fantasy in the first place was a book set in New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina. It was obvious in the first five pages the author had never set foot in NOLA, and knew nothing of conditions there after the storm. I finished the book, but was angry that the authors had seized upon a setting without bothering to do their homework. I could do better, I thought. I was there. It became the setting and inspiration for my series that comes out next year.

Does it matter? People who don’t know New Orleans won’t know the difference.

I think it does, that the author has a responsibility to at least make an effort to learn as much as they can about setting. A simple read of the online New Orleans newspaper, the Times-Picayune, could have told the author that the things taking place in his book would not have been physically possible. (Like his character strolling through a neighborhood at a time when, in reality, it was still six feet underwater.)

So, yesterday I took a road trip into rural Chambers County, Alabama, where my work-in-progress is set. It’s an imaginary town, Stockholm, based on a real town, Penton. After making the trip, though, I realized the town of LaFayette was a much better model for Stockholm. It also gave me a chance to see what the houses look like around there, how the storefronts look. What type of trees grow along the roadsides leading into and out of town.

If my book had been set in Stockholm, Sweden, of course, I couldn’t have taken a quick afternoon jaunt to look around. But there are guidebooks, Internet folks who live there and who might be willing to read passages for accuracy, Google Earth, etc. Lots of easy opportunities for a writer to research place.

What’s the setting of your favorite read lately? If it’s a real city or area, did the author do a good job of setting the sense of place? Do you think it matters? Let’s talk!

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban and paranormal fantasy and romantic suspense, currently living in Auburn, Alabama. Author of the Sentinels of New Orleans series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, and Belle Chasse (Nov 2016). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the upcoming Wilds of the Bayou series (Book 1, Wild Man's Curse) releases April 2016).

4 thoughts on “A Sense of Place

  1. I think it’s important to get the details right. Granted, in a lot of the books I read, I can’t tell the difference because I haven’t been there. But for those that have, that author loses credibility with that reader. If caught not doing their homework, it makes the reader wonder what else has been fudged.

  2. Yes I think details are important even though I am not a well traveled person. I expect an author to research the facts of his story even if it’s a make believe place based upon a real town. I’m even a stickler for events that have happened if you are going to use the Johnstown flood for background then I expect someone to google Johnstown flood or ask someone from that town about those events. Johnstown is in PA and yes there really was a flood that created major problems and a museum.

    Robin
    Robbibird3@aol.com

  3. I think it’s important to do your research! Lately most of my favorite reads haven’t been based in this world or in real cities, but I love to read books set in cities I know (like Chicago). I love that you’re taking the effort to learn more about the places your characters live!

  4. Glad you all agree about the importance of place! I love the Dresden books set in Chicago because I lived there for a while and the setting rings true for me. I hope my UF series that starts up next year does justice to Southeast Louisiana and New Orleans!