August 7, 2013

Gotham City or New York?

By Regina Jennings

We love to immerse ourselves in the rich setting of a novel, but for the story to work the location must feel real, whether it is or not. Knowing that the book is set in an actual location adds authenticity, but if you decide to place your novel in a real city, what are the limitations? What are the advantages?

If you decide to create a fictional town you are free to manufacture history. Although constrained by national and world-wide events like wars, plagues and elections you can create sweeping consequences for your protagonists and their neighbors. If you stay with a true site, not only must you consider the nationally known events, but also natural disasters, crime sprees, workers’ strikes and local advancements (electricity, suffrage, railroads, etc.). While these details can limit your story, they can also provide convincing motivations and conflicts. Was there a local outlaw? Was the local lord a scoundrel? Is this region famous for a certain product? Crop? Music? Choosing a town or city helps you narrow your research.

Another benefit to using an established location is that you don’t need to invent street names and businesses. Maps and newspaper advertisements will tell you much about the commerce and the people who live (or lived) in that neighborhood.

As far as marketing goes, a well-known location helps readers relate to your story. They’ll have expectations and possibly memories that will add to their interest in your book. If you choose a smaller town, the locals (and in my experience, even people from adjacent counties) will promote the book. People are eager to see how their community is portrayed.

My first two books, Sixty Acres and a Bride and Love in the Balance, are set in real towns in Caldwell County, Texas. The local history adds to the story and I’ve had several influencers from the area assist with research and publicity. My third book Caught in the Middle is also in the series, but because the plot involves railroad corruption, I didn't want to use an actual town. There’s only one railroad through there and it’s a matter of public record where it ran—and still runs. In order to have flexibility with the plot, I created a fictional town on down the tracks.

Regardless of whether you use a true location or create one of your own, you’ll want a rich, memorable setting. Readers love to feel like they’ve been there, even if your community only exists between the pages of your story.
Regina Jennings is the author of Love in the Balance and Sixty Acres and a Bride. She is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and has worked at The Mustang News and First Baptist Church of Mustangalong with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She now lives outside Oklahoma City with her husband and four children.
Regina can be found surrounded by laundry or at any of these places online–
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