Be where you’ve been

By JCrawford Writing Tips 2 Comments on Be where you’ve been

My last post was about fictionalizing yourself for the purposes of kicking your story development into gear. This post is along similar lines.

Use places you’ve actually been as settings for your work. Try locations that have had a profound impact on you in some way. Another option is to fictionalize places you’ve been frequently.

Why profound impact or frequency? Your words convey the experience of where you’ve been. Familiarity or repetition produce more data in your mind for you to use in your writing.

I’m sure you’ve heard about big name writers who travel to the location of a proposed novel, stay there for X amount of time, and write their brains out while they’re in town. Well, as newbies, we don’t have the budget to nip off to Kathmandu for a month, or hole up in Las Vegas for just long enough to lose money and generate 20,000 words.

What we’ve got is all the data that remains in our minds from places we’ve been. Take that framework and build your exotic location, or write it as you saw it and experienced it. Either way, you’ve got real experience to feed into the story and your readers will pick up on it.

Since I know my work better than anyone else’s, I’ll give you two examples from my first book, “Blood-soaked and Contagious”. The primary setting of the book is the intersection of Route 29 and Glebe Road in Arlington, Virginia. Why? Every time I go out to the blacksmith shop to beat the snot out of hot metal, I turn left at the traffic light there. Also, it seemed to me that area would be a great place to settle in the middle of a slow zombie apocalypse, because there’s a hardware store one block to the side of that intersection.

Really, if you had to “saunter vaguely downwards” as a civilization, wouldn’t you like to have goods to trade? Of course you would! So I made Frank (the main character) the de facto owner of the store. It made a certain amount of sense, and I think, added a little more realism to the bloody goings on.

Later on in the book, there’s a flashback to the day Frank first hears the news about people coming back to life. He’s hanging out in the Sheep’s Heid pub in Duddingston, Scotland. I’ve been to that pub (to discover the bartender’s sister is married to an American, and they live about 30 minutes away from where I do, here in the Washington, DC area), and it made an impression on me. (To say nothing of the world being WAY TOO SMALL!)

I think you get where I’m going here.

What you’ve done, and where you’ve been, greatly inform your writing. Your feelings and experiences lend reality to the words, and help your reader suspend disbelief. They’ll sink deeper into your story if they can float away on something that feels real, rather than one-dimensional descriptions that gloss over details.

Happy writing,

James Crawford @crawford4033 on Twitter



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  • Dave R
    Posted on June 18, 2012 at 5:25 am

    Any thoughts on places you can’t have possibly been? In the book I am working on we visit space ships, Mars and an alien moon or two?

    It seems like pictures would help with detail too. Not as well as being there, but if you need a reference it seems like it would be a good starting place.

  • JCrawford
    Posted on June 18, 2012 at 5:38 am

    Good afternoon, Dave.

    Making maps and sketching things helps your imagination (whether or not you’re an artist).

    Your alien spacecraft can be as alien as you like (no clear cut, logical layout that we’d understand) or as familiar as you’d like. I would say if you’re leaning towards familiar, sketch out the location of important things like the bridge, engine room, and so forth.

    Luckily for us, there’s quite a bit of source material out there in the land of Conspiracy Theory that might give you some ideas about how flying saucers might be structured, and what kind of power sources they might have.

    For Mars, I’d say do some research.

    You can also choose where and how to focus your characters’ attention. Do they describe where they are or do they report their feelings about where they are? Will you focus on the character interactions, or the broader view of their experiences within a well-defined space.

    You’re absolutely right: pictures are excellent for kicking your imagination into gear.

    Best wishes,

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