Where to set a novel or story is, for me and I suspect lots of other writers, a key decision. You wouldn’t set a western in northern England (unless you called it Jericho… but that’s probably for a different post). Readers want locations appropriate to the action, and internally consistent timelines and locations (no skipping from Edinburgh to London in five minutes unless you have already introduced technology that makes that possible…and you’re writing in a future fiction/sci fi genre).
I am also quite a visual writer. I like to have a mental picture of my characters and the locations where key bits of action take place. Even if these details aren’t shared with my reader. It just helps me to hold these in mind when I write so that I avoid inconsistency.
I am currently editing a novella for summer release. Part of the action requires my heroine to sit in a coffee shop whilst waiting for the villain of the piece to meet a confederate nearby. It is a pivotal moment in the story, as this is when the heroine first identifies the villain for certain from a range of potential characters. All ok so far? Well, yes. It’s a simple set up, and not particularly location specific. So what’s the problem?
Well, the problem is this. I had a place in mind when I wrote the scene. And last week I happened to be in the area for the first time in a couple of years. I thought I’d take a wander past. And where there was a coffee shop (with my heroine sat just out of eyesight watching the world go by) with eyeline to the building (with my villains engaged in hurried conversation in a door way) there is now…a hole in the ground and a big sign saying ‘Crossrail’!
It probably doesn’t matter. I referred to the location in passing, but not in such specific detail that a reader would necessarily be able to find it, or frankly want to. And the location is not critical to the story so much as it is simply a place for the action to happen. It could be anywhere really. (Let’s face it, there’s a coffee shop on every street corner anyway). So it really should not matter one jot what is or is not there any more. But..I just have this horrible feeling that my inner editor is going to force me to relocate the scene to somewhere that isn’t a hole in the ground!
Does anyone else have a view on this – either as a writer or a reader? Does it matter of the locations in a novel are real, reimagined or entirely fictitious? And if they are ‘real’…does it spoil the work if the location changes and the novel becomes ‘wrong’? Leave me a comment, let me know what you think?
(c) Chris Johnson 2016