An article in the Telegram & Gazette this morning discussed how Stephen King briefly mentions Westborough in his new novel. While I thought it was funny that King should mention our town in his novel, it got me thinking about something very important when writing: setting.
Although individual places such as the protagonist's house, place of work, or school are important, the town or city which they live in is just as crucial to the story. Take some time to develop the town. Where do people go for a fancy dinner? What is there to do for fun? Are there any slang words particular to this setting?
I was in a critique session once and my critique buddy asked me about an ice cream shop my characters went to in one scene. When she began asking what it was like, I had to pause and ask myself. In all honesty, I hadn't thought about it all. I just knew it was centrally located and a popular place for kids to go to after school. After receiving this feedback, I went home and made some decisions about this place. I continued on to think about the town as a whole. I began asking myself some important questions and soon I had a much clearer vision of Greendale. It grew from a place with a hodgepodge of buildings to a town with specific streets, locations, and areas.
If you are working with a setting which actually exists, it would be a good idea to spend a day there, take some pictures, and jot down some observations. One of my English teachers often visits the settings of the books we read in class. She shows us pictures of actual and specific buildings which match the places in the novels. If you have a fictitious setting, begin to develop it by asking yourself some of these questions.
-What is the town known for?
-Are there any town traditions? Do they celebrate holidays with parades and ceremonies or do residents have to go elsewhere?
-What are the people like? Are there any qualities specific to the residents?
-Are there any good or bad areas?
-Is there a downtown? If so, what is it like? Are there stores, restaurants, or parks?
-How does this setting involve itself in the story?