How much of where you actually live makes it into your fiction?

I am from South Africa, but live in Taiwan - specifically central Taiwan, in a town that only recently became a city. I commute to work by train every day and as I stare out the window at the changing landscape I feel a rhythm of growth and development, a pulse of green mixed with asphalt and concrete and traffic.

In writing/crafting my own fiction recently I am trying to be more aware of my physical surroundings as resource material. I am great at coming up with plots and characters, but settings have always been a bit tricky for me.

How do I place my character/s in a great setting, and then have them move from place to place in a way that makes sense to the plot, the theme, the narrative arc, and the world in general? That is my biggest challenge at present.

How about you? Do the real settings and places you travel through and visit in your ‘real’ life make their way into your fictions? How do you balance plot and place and pace? How do you adapt and change what is real to make your fiction more concrete and believable?

Any tips or tricks or examples or resources would be much appreciated.

:hourglass_flowing_sand:

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I always use my city or state. Since my characters have to either go to work or other places, I’ll mention the type of traffic we have and or the type of drivers. I know when I read, I can relate more when they mention towns or places or situations that are typical of places I’ve visited or have lived.

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I use the city I live in as inspiration all the time. I guess it is because I know the area and the people (thirty years in one spot will do that to you). In all fairness, the writing that I have been most successful at has a distinctly American Southern flavor it. I do fictionalize the city itself.

I ask myself why are these characters in this place, what do they experience, and how do they feel about it? What are the details that they key in on? What is common, whether that means idioms, types of buildings, animals/plants, names, or even languages? What is uncommon? What aspects of the location can I use to create a mood or tone that actually exist, and could two or more characters see that aspect/thing in two very different ways?

For example, is an oak tree loaded with spanish moss part of a romantic backdrop or is something sinister? (Oak trees and spanish moss are all over the place in North Florida.) Are thunderstorms just something to expect at three pm in the summertime or are they something dangerous? (In North Florida lightening is really common while in Southern California sudden heavy rains could mean mudslides.) Even down to food - peanut butter and jelly sandwiches might make one character nostalgic for their childhood or it might remind them of a tough time in their life because it is all they could afford to eat or it could be a murder attempt if they have a peanut allergy or it could just be strange thing to eat.

As far as plot and pace, as I’m writing an urban fantasy murder mystery (think of a crime show with mages) plotting is fairly straightforward. Characters find clues and follow them. I rarely let them sit still for long and so my pacing is faster (I think but I’m waiting to hear from others what they think right now. I could be totally wrong.)

I hope that helps some.

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I open my current WIP in a fictional version of my hometown. It made it easier to make it feel real when I didn’t feel like I was creating everything from scratch. It also gave me insight into the characters that would inhabit the city. My story goes in some pretty wild directions, but this allowed me to start from a very grounded place.

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I don’t think I’ve ever used any place I’ve ever lived in my writing. :woman_shrugging:

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@riterrebs

That sounds very practical.

If I used actual place names in Taiwan, many people would not be able to pronounce them - for example, Wuri, Xinwui, Qingshui…

Do you use actual place names or invent new ones? Do you have any examples you can think of?

@JoHoughton

I like how you can use the same setting or object in a story to mean different emotional things to your characters. That peanutbutter and jelly sandwich is a great example. Thank you.

Do you often feel inspired by your city and its people?

@SHoutman

Yes, that sounds like a great idea. I often feel like I’m juggling too much at one time: plot, setting, characters, etc.

The one series I’m trying to discovery write and plot is giving me headaches because it’s set in the far future where all cities have been destroyed. In the place of cities are these huge sentient buildings which contain people who help them grow until they’re spaceflight ready. There is so much worldbuilding and research I need to do: about tall buildings, population density, genetics, etc.

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@dtill359

Interesting. Do you make up a place as you go along? Or do you research a place you’d like to set your writing in? I know google maps has a great street view option for pretty much any place in the world.

I write a lot of poetry inspired by people and places I encounter in the day to day life in relation to me or to memories/thought os other places I’ve been to or lived in.

Sometimes it isn’t so much inspiration as it is the place that I know on a deep level and have a real sense of history with. For a little perspective, I’m the fifth generation to live here, fourth generation to live in the physical house I grew up in. When I go through certain more heavily populated neighborhoods, I see how they are now and I know that my Dad used to live in that same area and fattened up cattle as a teenager. For me the past is never that far away.

There is a lot of good and bad in the city, and sometimes it’s hard to explain how some behaviors are perfectly normal for that location without sounding outlandish. For example what is Axe Handle Day (warning: it will break your heart and make you angry) or that when I talk about the largest church downtown having full size, working lighthouse, it’s not an exaggeration. Other times it is the great acts of kindness I have seen between two people that inspire me to be a better person (it is a long story, sounds crazy, will probably make you tear up, and is totally true.). And I’m still learning things about the city that inspire and so many that hurt your heart to know.

When I drop my characters into a situation, I know a range of the reactions that characters would have. They run the spectrum from complete acceptance to outright rejection, and sometimes they are contradictory within the character themselves. I want to use that because that is the way life is. And I use the views I’ve actually heard expressed. They aren’t always views I agree with but they are real ones.

I don’t if any of that counts as inspiration exactly. Giving my writing a supernatural angle lets me talk about real issues going on in the community/city/world I live in and it will be okay because, after all, it’s a story about people with magic powers. I hope that is at least coherent.

P.S. Seriously, there is a working lighthouse at the First Baptist Church. Parking garage for scale. https://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/wm31A2_First_Baptist_Church_Garage_Lighthouse_Jacksonville_FL

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Both, I suppose. I do a lot of fanfic work in addition to original fiction, so the fanfic world is pretty set, and it isn’t anywhere near where I live - in fact most of the events don’t even take place on Earth.

As for the original fiction end of things, most of what I write is fantasy, so I have to make up the setting. I guess I’ve just never come across a story I wanted to tell that required me to use the places I’ve lived for inspiration.

I’m working on a contemporary novel at the moment, and it’s set in California – across the country from where I live, so I’m doing a lot of research as I go.

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Out of curiosity, how do you approach research for something like that? As a native Californian, I’m not sure I’d have the courage to try to set a novel somewhere else. The US is not nearly as homogeneous as people tend to think. Even here in California with the intricate degrees of diversity we have, I’d only be able to convey some small part of that in a single novel unless the setting itself is cursory to the story and not particularly steeped in local culture.

Lots and lots of Googling for starters. I knew right away what my two or three main locations would be, so I concentrated on those. The novel’s set in 2019, so I can find out weather information, etc. relatively easily.

Local culture doesn’t play a large role in the story, so that’s not a factor I have to deal with too much.

The whole story takes place in one area, so the MC isn’t doing extensive travel, which means my sphere of study narrows a good bit. The elements I already know/understand will be relegated to fact-checking.

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