Realtors use this phrase all the time and I like to think of it as I start a new novel as well. To me, location can be used almost like an additional character- especially some cities-like New Orleans, for example.
Stories are fun to plan and one of the most interesting things to me is selecting where the action will take place. I, for one, like foreign or exotic places. The tag line for my website is Romantic Adventures with an International Flair and those are my favorite tales to tell.
Traveling can assist a writer in making his or her stories more authentic. We’ve all gone on trips, be they short or long, to the next town or across the ocean. I recommend that those ventures to other areas be mined for material. Using a small notebook, I jot things as I move about- such as what neighborhoods abut each other; where the nicest homes are; where the dodgy areas are; and other little details that will add to setting the scene.
I always grab a map or two of the places I visit in case I later decide to set a story there so I’ll have them to compare to areas that my character goes to. I’ve seen several movies set in places I’ve been and it always bugs me when I can tell they’ve moved around in the shooting and that the place where the character is at one point is nowhere near where they are in the next moment. I know that makes me sound anal and maybe I am but I sure do like to try to be authentic.
I recently received a review from a reader who lives in London and she praised the fact that I nailed the area of London where the story was set (Greenwich). I spent time over there when my son was living in the neighborhood. I made notes of streets, pubs, food, types of drinks, the railway stops and also picked up those maps that I love. I really think that made a difference for that reader to feel as if she/he were really in that area with the characters.
I’ve mined my real life visits for scenery descriptions as well as tourist spots that characters may visit. I have also set a few stories in places I haven’t been physically but I’ve researched by ordering maps and tourist books as well as talking to friends who have been there. I mine that information to use sporadically in the story to make the readers feel they are there. It seems to work as readers have contacted me to say they feel like they are in the places I describe.
Another thing to add when you've been to the location you're writing about is the smells around you. For New Orleans, the Quarter smells like stale beer and vomit- everyone knows that smell, right?
Or maybe you prefer the scent of powdered sugar on the air as you pass Café Du Monde. LOL!
A rose garden in England smells different than a woods in France. See where I'm going with this?
I recommend the above for adding authenticity to your stories and to make them come alive for the reader. Making your story’s location an integral part of the action will add flair to your tale that readers will love. Try adding the little touches that can make a difference like personal notes or information that a map or tourist guide can provide. It’ll make your stories shine. If you’re a reader, please leave a comment letting me know your thoughts about scenery and location. I’m curious if it makes a difference if you’re reading about an area you know well if you can tell if the writer has been there or not.
Speaking of New Orleans settings and smells, my alter-ego has a new book out on the 24th of this month. It takes place in that awesome city. Here's the cover.