Location, location, location… did I happen to mention it matters?

Posted on April 2, 2018


I managed to timetable a research trip with a family holiday a couple of years ago. (Luckily: I think the accountant would have raised both eyebrows if I’d tried to put it through the books, and it would have given me sleepless nights to try it anyway.) But as time has gone by, and the main characters are all over the place when we meet them again in An Empty Fade, location research is getting less practical.

So, what are the options as a writer?

1. Stick to tried and trusted locations you’ve already used
This is a bonus for the reader, since they can imagine the place without a lot of superfluous description to get through. It’s a bonus for the writer too; these locations will evoke certain responses in the characters. A place could make them feel comfortable enough to be open, or vulnerable enough to help build tension.

2. If a place has got to be specific in some aspects, let it be vague in others
Aravey doesn’t exist, though I can see it very clearly in my mind’s eye and was inspired by real places elsewhere. So its physical location, like Mylos, is deliberately vague – somewhere south of Lestar where the landscape holds rivers and hills and marshy ground and waterfalls.
Annoyingly, the key battle location I have in my head for An Empty Fade has very specific topography, and I’m not mentally ready to throw it out and try (4.) yet. The search for a matching location and a reason they have to fight just there goes on…

3. Set it all in an imaginary world
A bit of backstory and some consistent world-building, and you’re away. Yeah, like it’s that easy… some authors just nail this though, like CJ Cherryh, Tolkien, Gaiman and Pratchett. Read the ones that work for you and suss out the bits that made it work for you if you’re world-building from scratch.

4. Don’t be afraid to change big stuff
For a long time, An Empty Fade was going to open in a costal town in Naunt or Jiraund – an ocean coast anyway, beaten by big cold winds and with lots of sand dunes around. I had thoughts of seafaring pirates entering the plot. Only I couldn’t get a good feel for the place and couldn’t see the way forward with the story. Then on the aforementioned research trip, I came across what was to become the town of Set on the Mediterranean coast of Toaz – a town with very swish but also rather run-down areas; and sand, lots of sand. And all of a sudden, the plot was rolling out and the characters were coming to life. Now that I’m writing it in earnest it’s still not a complete pushover, but that ‘using landscape to anchor the story’ I’ve spoken about in previous blogs is helping.

I also build an image library for each book of copyright-free or Creative Commons images that inspire me, and keep them in Pinterest. I’m assured I should lob such things into Instagram too, but there’s only one of me to go round and the book won’t write itself. Maybe a future blog, if I get round to doing both?

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