Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Building a Fictional Town for Your Book


By Patricia Potter

When I started writing “A Soldier’s Promise,” I knew I had a problem. All my other books were set in an actual place: Atlanta that I knew well, Memphis that I knew nearly as well, Boston that I had visited many times and the Georgia coast that I had haunted for many years. Other locations were intentionally vague: a Texas Ranger station, a ranch in Colorado, a trail drive, etc. But now I was writing a book where a small town is really a character in the book. I wanted it to be eccentric, and quite obviously I couldn’t use a real one where everyone knows everyone. The only solution was to build my own town.

Promise” is the story of a wounded vet returning to a life foreign to him after eighteen years in the army. With him is Amos, a retired military dog with PTSD. My vet, a loner without family, is seeking a quiet refuge where the two can heal each other. That refuge is a cabin left to him by his best friend who was killed in their last battle together.

But where to place that town and what and who should be included? I knew I wanted him to go to a small town in Colorado on the edge of the Rockies. The first step was a giant Colorado map on which I circled every small town. Then I googled each one. Most have web sites with valuable details: population, industry if any, businesses, city government. The latter was particularly helpful. It often included the composition of city government and the size of its police department, including the names of officers and dispatchers. The latter was doubly valuable for providing names typical of the region. When I thought additional information was needed, I would call the listed number and, as always, people were always eager to answer any questions.

Armed with this information, I then went to the State of Colorado web site as well as my own encyclopedia for information on weather, flora and wildlife. I knew the story would include a rattlesnake bite and a national forest. After days of estimating distances and researching towns, I decided to place my town of approximately 3,000 souls about a hundred miles west of Pueblo.   

I had the basics now. At last, I could become a town planner. I designed my l town, complete with street names, businesses, town hall, elementary and high school, police station and a community center. There’s a hardware store, of course, and a sarcastic veterinarian who is also involved in search and rescue. There is an elderly doctor, a grocery store, drug store, small bank branch, real estate and insurance company, general store with some clothing, service station and garage, Maude’s diner that makes the best steaks in Colorado and four bars/saloons. There is a lake, public picnic area and community center with ball fields.   Everyone knows everyone, and when a newcomer appears, there is mass community interest, the last thing my protagonist wants.

A big problem was the town’s name. My original name was Lake City until I discovered a small town of similar size in the Colorado Mountains named Lake City. I was halfway through the book then and couldn’t believe I had missed it when researching small towns. But just as a precaution, I googled Lake City and sure enough there was one. Back to the drawing board. I ended up with Covenant Falls and you have to read the book to find out why. It has to do with a legend and Colorado history.
       
Once I had my town, the population was easy. It’s decidedly elderly because young people have to go elsewhere for jobs. The mayor is a widow with an eight-year-old son and a motley crew of rescue dogs. She is constantly at war with the president of the city council.
         
Covenant Falls is now as real to me as my own Memphis and I expect it will be the location of other books. After all, I did build it.             
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Patricia Potter is the USA Today Bestselling Author of more than sixty books, including historical romances, suspense and romance. Her complete list of her books can be found at Romance Wiki. She has been published by Bantam, Berkley, Harper and Harlequin, and her books has been translated into twelve languages. She is a past president of the 10,000-member Romance Writers of America, Georgia Romance Writers and River City Romance Writers. She is an avid advocate of animal rescue groups, including Pets for Vets, and is the proud adoptive mother of two rescue Australian Shepherd mixes. You can connect with Patricia on her website and blog, She shares this site with five other best-selling authors, Story Broads. Her latest book, A Soldier’s Promise, released April 1, 2014. 

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