Monday, June 8, 2009

Location, Location, Location...

By Jenna Byrnes

Hey to everyone out there in Grip-land! This is my first official 'Jenna' post but I feel like I know you already. *sly grin* This week our topic is 'setting the scene', which is a part of creating a book or story that I really enjoy, so let's get right to it.

Sometimes, my plot or characters are all that matter. I've written a few stories where the location was never named. Usually in novels, the setting matters so I pick a spot from the wide variety of places I have traveled...home--> Walmart--> grocery store.

Okay, I have traveled a bit more than that, but not much. That's where the beauty of the internet kicks in. When I was a kid, I'd have had to drag my rear to the library to research the kind of stuff that can now be found online. Jude and I are in the middle of a Phaze Rocks series called Slippery When Wet-- all the heroes in these novellas have recently been released from Corcoran State Prison in California. I promise you, I've never been inside COR. But I have half a dozen sites bookmarked which gave us tons of great insider information.

In our Untamed Hearts shifter series, Jude and I created an undisclosed location, near a small village we made up, somewhere in the north. This works because shifters are other-worldly, and don't necessarily need to be located in California or Chicago (two of my location favorites!)

For our Kindred Spirits series, Jude secured this picture (with sexual favors, I think) and I fell in love with it. It made the cover of the series, with an eerie glow added by the cover artist, to fit our ghostly theme. In the reviews we've recieved on Ethan's Choice so far, people don't know if Whiskers' Seaside Inn is a real place or not, but they love the homey feel we've given it. Jude and I love to hear that, it's exactly what we were after.

Sometimes, when I don't want to focus on a lot of research, I'll make up a town. I do that often if I don't want readers to get bogged down in a location they're familiar with, and spend half the book thinking, "Hey, Main Street never intersects Whazzup Aveune!"

I've been to Seattle and have used that as the backdrop for a couple books. I like Chicago for when I need a big city where lots of things could happen.

At the end of the month I have a story in TEB's Pleasure Bound anthology and I had to pick a vacation spot. I chose Hawaii, and borrowed a tourist guide book from someone who used to live there. That, with the internet, gave me lots of tidbits to toss into the story. The added benefit was me, walking around for a month, saying "Howzit, bra?" like Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Bottom line for me, location isn't the first thing I think about when planning a story, unless it's for a themed call. But I do like to use a variety of places, and thanks to the internet, I think I get away with it reasonably well. Aloha. *g*


  1. Hey Jenna..

    Lovely first post - as a reader, I am finicky that I look out for location as it play such a big part in my enjoyment of the book, even if it's something as simply as the door off the passage leading from the bedroom..

    I guess that's just me ..

    I am very pleased you mention the little cottage I fell in love with - please bride Jude so she can use whatever means necessary to get the info out to us readers..

    Beautiful, beautiful setting and picture...

    Welcome Jenna -Lovely to have you here.


  2. Hi Jenna,

    I very much agree that location can be a major part of a story. A large part of the author's skill is being able to translate natural beauty into a 'word picture' (1000 words?) that the reader can use to form an image in his/her head.
    In my recent release Magnificent Man, I did a week of field research in Arizona and TONS of internet research so that I could accurately describe the route and the places that my H/H travelled. It was work, but it was fun too.

  3. I usually allow for the fact that certain streets, businesses, etc. are just artistic license. When a book is about a place that I know like the back of my hand and the author ads islands that don't exist and casinos in a small town that doesn't have one. It stretches the imagination. I do the suspension of disbelief, but it is hard when it is in my own back yard. I just finished a book about the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My son used to live there. His ex wife still does and I have spent months there. I loved the book, but I had to concentrate on saying to myself. This is fiction. Of course maybe it was a quantum universe.

    I wonder, am I the only one who has trouble with imagining a setting that doesn't match something you see every day?

    Glad you are here Jenna.


  4. Hi EH,

    Thanks for the warm welcome. I'd never thought about location playing such an important role to readers, but it makes sense. Will definitely give more thought to it!



  5. Hi Randall,

    Thanks for stopping by the Grip. You're right, the mental imagery is a big thing for readers. I've always thought more about it from the characters standpoint, but I see now that location is also key.


  6. Hi Ray!

    No, I'm sure you're not alone in having a hard time suspending disbelief. I was told that straight off the bat, people will notice if you use a place they know, and you don't get it right. LOL That's why I tend to make places up. I can get away with it more in fantasy type stuff, I guess.



  7. Hi Jenna,

    I can't say locations are the first things I worry about either. Making up locations is so much more fun than using real ones that I tend to do that nigh on all the time.

    Glad to see you settling in nicely :)

    Kim Dare.

  8. Thanks Kim. Nigh on all the time, eh? LOL Me too.



  9. Hi, Jenna,

    Welcome to the fold!

    I definitely notice serious discrepancies when a story is set in a place I know well. I read a story set in Phuket, Thailand, in which the main city was on the beach -- that just isn't the way it is and I have to admit that as much as I liked the book, that bugged me.

    I find that in trying to make a place seem real, the atmosphere is more important than the geographic details. Plus leaving out specific street names and such can help you avoid problems like the above ;^)

    On the other hand, I made a huge blunder in one of my books, set in Boston, even though I lived there myself for more than a year and nearby for more than twenty years. I left out a stop on the subway. My husband pointed out the error when he read the book after it was published. There was a sex scene set in the subway car... guess I got distracted!


  10. LOL Lisabet,

    I can see why you got distracted. I suspect most readers didn't catch your blunder, but if they did, they enjoyed the book well enough not to care.

    Have a great week!

  11. Kim,

    I don't mind fictitious addresses in a real city or an extra town on the coast or in mountains. When a book says it is about a specific town with only 3000 permanent residents it is a little strange to have a casino run by a mobster, an island out to sea, when there are none is stretching a little. Especially since my son used to own a house there and a friend of my wife's still does as well as of the three adjacent towns on the beach strip, the one mentioned in the novel was the one where I vacationed with my daughter for a week. Other than the casino and the island I didn't worry about the rest of the setting. It was almost as if the author threw a dart at a map and then started making a SIM out of the location the dart struck.

    One of my favorite local authors, the late Wendy Haley wrote about this area. She mentioned a book store where the characters hung out. We used to have lots of small book stores. In one that resembled the one in the book I went to a Suzanne Brockmann book signing.

    One of her books about the Virginia Beach Oceanfront scared me from ever going there after dark. Another about a shipyard fire made me more alert when going anywhere near a shipyard. Anything that didn't match reality I just chalked up to her trying to disquise a real place. One of our shipyards had an explosion in a utility tunnel. A contractor's trailer was on top of the tunnel. It was blown off when the tunnel sustained an explosion. I was a safety inspector for my ship. When I reported something to the yard safety officer Yard drivers drove as if to run over me. That yard might have been her model.


  12. I have to say, I hate researching a location I've never been to. I'm stuck mid-project because I can't nail down the setting, and it's been driving me bonkers. One of these days I'll figure it out, I'm sure, but until then that story sits on my hard drive, untouched.

    I like the photo for the inn! I can see how it would inspire a good story.

    Welcome to the OGG, Jenna ;)