Monday, March 28, 2011

On Settings

Akin to recent posts On Character Names and On Writing Clarity, today I'm taking on settings!

When you start a novel, you have to make a couple broad decisions about setting.

First: Should your work take place in an everytown? Something most readers can relate to. Or a specific setting? Somewhere to draw readers into.

Second: Do you want a real setting? NYC, Boston, etc. Or a fake or fictionalized setting?

I don’t think any choice is better than the other, it’s all about the execution and what’s right for that particular work.

For Clarity, I knew I wanted the setting to be an important part of the book, almost like another character. Due to the nature of my main character’s family business, I thought a tourist town would work well. I chose Cape Cod simply because I know it well and love it. My father is from Hyannis and has told me stories about the pros and cons of being a teenager in a tourist town. I grew up about 40 minutes from the bridge so we spent tons of weekends down there, especially in the summer. And I do the same with my own family today.

But now that my heart was set on Cape Cod, I had another decision to make. Real town or fake? If I went real, I probably would have gone with South Yarmouth or Hyannis. But I decided to create a fictional town. (Locals may be able to identify some of real places that inspired the settings, though!)

My main reason was that there were particular places I wanted to write into the book that did not exist in real life. And I know it takes some readers out of the story if they run up against a place in a real town that does not exist in reality. (For instance, my father went cuckoo bananas a few years ago because a book put an MBTA station in a town where there is no station. Yes, it was fiction. And Dad loved the book. But he couldn’t get over this fictional MBTA station.)

So I created the town of Eastport, MA. I was free to use some real spots on the Cape (from any town) and invent new places. For example, the 7-Eleven in chapter two is the 7-Eleven in West Yarmouth.

But the boardwalk is fictional (though inspired by the Weirs Beach Boardwalk in Laconia, New Hampshire).

And that’s how Eastport came to be!


  1. Ooh, fun post about the behind-the-scenes decisions that went into Clarity. So far for my books I choose fictionalized towns too, though like Eastport they're usually based around real-life locales.

  2. Love the setting and it is very col to get the inside scoop of how you came up with the town and why you did. Cannot wait for a second book either!

  3. I’m never going to that 7-Eleven if my car gets busted up the behind like that :p

  4. Thanks, Jan!
    Hey, Braiden, I've gotta protect the innocent, ya know! :)

  5. Aww my writing takes place in a fictional yet not town too! My hometown, Auburn is magically transformed into Stoneville ;)

  6. Thanks for sharing this. I'm debating whether I can add some fictional places to my real life setting. You've given me more to think about.

  7. Thanks, Laura!

    @Natalie - I think you can, but there are people who find themselves pulled out of a story if it's a town/city they're familiar with. (Like my dad. lol.)