Location (AKA also a character)

As a writer, I’ve struggled a lot with the question of location. There’s a lot of the world and this country that I’ve never seen (tragically, because I *love* traveling). In the past I’ve not been much of a researcher; initially because I was writing fast and hard for NaNo and rarely went back to the books for edits. But I did place characters in cities and states that served an important purpose for the characters and stories I was building.   

I do believe that location is incredibly important to the integrity of the story being told. For me, location is almost like a third character, silent but formative. It frames your story, it supports it in the background. It breathes atmosphere and often is a part of character growth and development. 

The first story I ever really researched for a location I’d never visited had scenes in London and Paris; I could not be *less* familiar with either location. But for both these locations in both were vital to the story. 

One of the loveliest things about participating in fan culture (which is where my writing really took off and picked up speed) is that it is a *gift* culture. Which means that when you need help, have questions, or a boost, there will generally be someone there to help you out. Having had a positive experience with help from other writers re: the story that took place in Europe, I decided to send out a call for help for locations in my current novel. I got so much amazing help, and for each person who offered advice, thank you, And also, sorry because big changes had to be made that kind of cut out sections that you all helped me with (eeep).

When I began this story, I’d never been to Chicago (a fact that seems to boggle everyone’s mind, as everyone here has been there at least once. It’s only 4 hours away and there’s train and bus routes). So why Chicago then? Why not pick a location I am intimately acquainted with? (For those wondering, that knowledge would be limited to Florida, Michigan, and Ohio). 

I needed one of my characters, Wren, live in a city that was supportive of the *thing* that makes him special (we’ll reveal that in the future when we’re closer to publication) (isn’t it awesome how I’ve somehow become a magical we?) (I love parentheticals. Just submit to the insanity). Detroit? Not a city that would work in any way for this need. Other Michigan cities that support larger populations? Not necessarily what I needed either because they’re in no way what I would consider cosmopolitan (sorry!). Plus, Michigan is just too conservative for my needs. I didn’t want a huge city, such as New York, or an expected city such as San Fransisco. Chicago seemed like it might be a good fit, and in a fit of insanity, I figured I could probably travel there for some on site research. Research is fantastic, but I really would have liked to soak in the atmosphere. 

Remind me to tell you about my disastrous attempt to visit the city this past June. 

Anyway, Chicago it was. It was a good fit for Wren, but also, a very important place for my other character, Cam. 

Enter another location that I know *nothing* about: Nebraska. I’ll give that revelation a little time to simmer as you ponder just why I chose that state as Cam’s home state.

I needed Chicago to be a revelation, and I needed Nebraska to be a foil, and I needed them to support a character in the process of discovery on multiple levels. I’ll admit that I only managed to glimpse Chicago at a distance while trapped for over an hour in the worst traffic jam of my existence; this obviously really changed my plans and the way that I placed my characters and their interactions in the city — as I wrote the book, the city became very much a background character (with totally made up places). At this point, it’s more the *idea* of each location that became important. But still, I stand by my assertion that location is a vital piece of my storytelling puzzle (here and in other books I’ve written. Or sort of written. Half written?) 

Of course, I am regret and anxiety filled, so now that the manuscript is in I worry that I haven’t done enough or filled things in enough. I guess time will tell. For my writer followers, how important is location in your stories, and how do you use location? For my readers, what are your thoughts? Do you find that location is important in shaping a story or does it depend? 


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