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Know Your Setting

June 25, 2009

It’s always important to know your setting whether it be based on a real location or one you made up. Most of my short stories are set in small towns. I grew up in a small town. It’s what I know best.

They’re like fingerprints. Each is unique and charming in their own way. It’s the perfect setting for a horror story. Someone caught in an isolated place and you don’t know what to expect. Are the townspeople really as friendly as they seem or are they all cannibals? They have an abundance of potential.

You can make the town themed. You have plenty of real ones to inspire you. There is Hell, Michigan, you have a pretty good idea what you’ll find there. Coober Pedy, Australia is an underground town. It’s basically too hot to live above ground. So, they moved below it, making dugouts their homes. Cassadaga, Florida is a haunted town inhabited by Spiritualists. Metropolis, Illinois is the home of Superman.

Use a real place or make one up. Know your setting as if you’re living and breathing it. If you can believe it to be real, so can your readers.

Andrea wishes her hometown was as interesting as Hell, Michigan. Who doesn’t want to live on Satan Avenue or get a death certificate with their ice cream.

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  1. June 25, 2009 2:52 am

    One of my favourite writers is Nick Earls and I was enamoured with his work before I ever lived in Brisbane. When we moved here it was like I almost knew parts of the city – thinking of his characters going to Toowong Village for groceries, jogging around University of Queensland etc etc.

    I’ve noticed a tendency in the last year or so to want to Brisbane-ise my writing. Writing the flagship story for Chinese Whisperings I could see it all happening in the same tiny apartment we’d lived in when we first moved here. The short story series which hasn’t progressed to date featuring my character Sam is based in the same tiny town I lived in for a few years in the middle of the NSW rice belt. My NaNo last year made reference to the jacaranda trees here in Brisbane and is a post environmental apocalyptic version of Brisbane called New Brisbane (no points for ingenuity!). My NaNo 09 project will probably be set by the beach where I spent time as a teenager.

    It makes sense to use or to adapt archetypal setting you understand best. I am grateful for the varied geography and social make up of the places I’ve lived in since leaving home.

    I’m yet though to write about showring in a hot mineral spring spurting from a rusty funnel in the middle of wheat field … there has to be a story in that.

  2. June 25, 2009 9:01 am

    and don’t we love the internet in order to make our writing more real – I am in love with google maps – being able to walk around a town I’ve never been to..
    very good points Andrea – thanks for sharing.

  3. June 25, 2009 11:16 pm

    I love playing with settings. Often a lot of my new stories ideas are shaped around a setting.

    One of the stories I’m working on has a scene set in a famous street in my area. I find reading about a setting I am familiar with in real life is quite cool in itself.

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