Adventures in NaNo-land – Location, Location, Location

November 21, 2012 at 3:25 am (fantasy, writing) (, , , , , , , , )

Writing a story set in a place that you’re familiar with is fairly easy, or using an entirely made-up world can be quite simple as well, if you enjoy world-building. Change the setting to a real place you’ve never visited, or even worse, that same place in a different time, and suddenly you face the risk of someone telling you that you’ve got it wrong.

I like to research the places I’m using as a setting for a story, but there’s no guarantee I’m going to get everything right, especially if your tale takes place in the distant past and involves a somewhat obscure culture. Here are a few of the things I look for while doing research on story location:

Place names – Having appropriate village, city or landmark names for your location is important. Sometimes you may want to avoid real place names for a fantasy plotline because of the obvious fictitious nature of the tale, but if you choose to fabricate place names for your real setting, at least research existing ones to give you an idea of what a likely place name might be (with regards to spelling, length, accent, etc.)

Climate – Are there four seasons, or more like two. Are those seasons based on a change in temperatures (warm to cold and back again) or precipitation (rainy seasons versus dry seasons.) Are there lengthy periods of fog, or the does the place tend to be arid in general? How close is the location to either pole versus the equator?

Terrain – Is there one common terrain (woodlands, coastlands, marsh, savannah, mountains, etc.) or does it vary, and are there particular terrains that should be excluded. Is the location primarily highland or lowlands? It helps to know these things to ensure you don’t include any terrain that would not be found there.

Flora and Fauna – Before you include any animals or plants that are common to you, make sure they existed in your location during the time the story is set. You may have to settle for a reasonable substitute. Lions, tigers or bears may never have lived in your chosen land. If that’s the case you may want to seek out a different and appropriate predator. The same thing applies to plants. You won’t find a cactus in a saltwater marsh or a bird of paradise flower by the Arctic Circle (except, perhaps, if magic is involved.)

Special Features – Some places have features particular to their area that may not be found elsewhere. With The Trading of Skin, I had to factor in a slew of religious landmarks, some natural, some man-made.

When you choose a location to give your story a certain flavour, it makes sense to have the right trimmings. You don’t want you butterscotch pudding tasting fishy or a hint of toffee to your tuna salad.

More tomorrow J

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