In this age of Google Maps and Street view and everyone-documenting-everything, there is no reason not to set your story in a ‘foreign’ location and still get the details right.
Write a story in a place you’ve never actually been to.
- Use a search engine to find out a few important facts about the place.
- Use Google Street View to take a look at the place (if your story is taking place in a diner in North-East Philadelphia, hope on Google maps and find out exactly what your heroine sees as she’s looking out of the window, waiting to say that thing she wants to say).
- Find a blog or informal tourist account of the location and gather some off-the-beaten-track details.
- Don’t spend all day doing these things. Just find one or two really colorful details that will help ground your story in the location. Make your characters from somewhere else if you’re not confident of capturing local speech patterns.
- If you don’t write realistic fiction, find somewhere to act as a model for your extra-terrestrial setting. Use a detail or two (like the architecture of the TRW ‘Space Park’ in Redondo Beach, California; used in a Star Trek episode in 1967; or England’s Home Counties as Tolkein’s Middle Earth).
Sherlock Holmes has Victorian London.
John Irving has New England.
John O’Hara’s short stories couldn’t work without their small-town Pennsylvania backdrop.
Even fantasy settings need to feel real in order to succeed (think Middle Earth, or Earthsea, or Deep Space Nine). So today we’re going to practise writing stories in which the location is as vivid as any character.
And in this age of Google Maps, Wikipedia, Flickr, Pinterest, a billion hobby blogs and online tourist information sites, there is no excuse for writing a thin, anemic version of any place you can imagine. (Even if you write fantasy, you can base the details in something real.)
Simcoe St in downtown Toronto, ON.
- Pick a place you have never been (preferably somewhere you have a friend – online or otherwise).
- Spend no more than 30 minutes researching it. Use Google Street View, search for blogs based there and ‘listen’ to how its residents talk, scan newspaper archives and obituaries, look at the high school and local library’s websites.
- Set a story in the location you have learned about. Paint a vivid picture of the place; weave it through your action; salt your character’s dialogue with local flavor.
- Then ask your long-distance friend how close you came to getting it right? What bloopers did you make? What slang did you get wrong? Was it too generic? Was it spot on?
- Remember to tell a story about characters in your location. This is not a travel brochure.
- Write fast. It’s just a fun exercise.
- Make sure your story travels from start to end: don’t just write a scene, make someone or something change between the first word and the last.
- You should use the prompt in your story (however tenuous the connection).
- You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
- Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
- Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!
Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook
Some tweets/updates you might use:
Don’t miss my short story: Location, Location, Location! #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-qb
This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is to write in a concrete location! #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-qb
Come and write with us! #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-qb
See my story – and write your own, today: Location As Character at #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-qb
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