It’s my turn to start the Blog Chain this round, which means it’s my turn to pick the topic!
I had another topic in mind, but the recent discussion about the “Realness” of characters got me thinking along a different line.
For any novelist, it is important that the story seem real to the reader at some level. Even the most fanciful of fantasies needs a grounding in reality for people to relate to it.
The previous chain covered the “Who” pretty thoroughly, but what about the “Where” and “When”?
So my question for the group is:
How do you as an author choose or create your story-world and give that setting authenticity?
I am really interested to see the responses on this with such a wide representation of genres in this chain.
For The Edge of Memory, my story was set in the real world, so I had a bit of a head start. But it was sheer authenticity issues that set my story primarily in Nebraska. Although I’m quite familiar with small Midwestern towns, I’ve never been to Omaha. So how in heaven’s name did my story end up there?
I trains. I love the sounds they make, the romance of them. I love that rhythmic sway that your legs remember for hours after you disembark. And I love the predestination of the path of the tracks.
When I decided that Beatrice was going to be searching for a place she had no idea where to find, she needed something concrete to lead her there. So I looked for a passenger railway line that didn’t branch, where if someone knew they needed to find a particular town along the way based on landmarks, that task would be overwhelming, but not impossible. This line also had to have been operational in 1951. And I found that in the California Zephyr Line. It leaves Chicago heading for California and after the branch near Galesburg, IL, there is nothing but a straight shot all the way west through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.
Then, for my backstory, I needed a town near a major river… a river that was large enough to be dangerous. The Mississippi was out, since I was setting the starting point just before the last fork in the Zephyr line (very near the Illinois/Iowa border). The Missouri River was the next likely option. And it happened to cross the Zephyr Line at Omaha. Suddenly I was writing a story set in Nebraska.
*I should add here that I was fortunate enough to have several test readers from Nebraska who were later quite surprised to discover I’d never been to Omaha. That was a major relief!
I used real U.S. cities for most of the novel. Gladstone is a real small town in central Illinois. Naturally, Chicago and Omaha are real cities. But for the town Beatrice is searching for, where all the ugliness goes down, I wanted a fictional location, but I still wanted it to be believable.
Using Google Maps, I found an area of Nebraska close to the Missouri River which appears completely uninhabited by satellite images. That is where I set my fictional town of Corbeander and the imaginary area near the river where Hawthorne Mill and Clemmons Field are found.
The timing of my novel was also specifically driven by the story itself. The backstory action ended up set in 1951 for specific reasons. I needed a time period where an abandoned child in a small town could be adopted without state social services getting involved or a nationwide police action. I needed local officials to be able to handle the situation at their own discretion. In Illinois, the Department of Children and Family Services was started in 1964, and smaller scale social service programs were in effect before that. So, the background storyline got pushed back to the 50’s.
Since the story is set a bit in the past, the dates in my story have already happened. I made efforts to make those aspects as real as possible as well. My story dates match the days of the week and the historical events and holidays that occured on them. For some days, I even checked the weather archives. The Korean War battle that kills Thea’s husband was chosen based on the timing of Stacey’s birth.
In short, my entire setting (both time and place) were chosen by my story for the sake of authenticity. I never guessed I would be writing a novel set in Omaha in the 50’s and 80’s. It just turned out that way.
So, that’s how it worked for me. But I bet a lot of other folks chose their settings and worlds first…
There’s only one way to find out though, and that’s to follow the blog chain.
Next up would be the always fabulous Mary Lindsay, if she wasn’t current battling a hurricane.
So the equally fabulous Michelle McLean will be up next instead. Links to my other fabulous Chain Gang cohorts are in my sidebar. 😉