Photo from http://ramshackleglam.tumblr.com/post/8168400373/see-i-want-to-live-in-a-place-that-looks-much
For my last manuscript, I knew what kind of tone I wanted for the story, and I knew I wanted a small town, southern setting. I began by looking at towns in Alabama but just wasn't coming up with anything. That's when I decided to ask my agent about using a fictional setting, and the idea for Peachfield, Georgia was born.
The following are some things to keep in mind when creating a fictional setting:
- Link your fictional setting to a real setting. Think about Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls. We all want to go there, don't we? Even though Stars Hollow doesn't actually exist, the show consistently references other places that do, like New York and Harvard. We even have a pretty firm geographical location for Stars Hollow in its relation to Hartford. Because we have these anchors in our mind, Stars Hollow becomes very believable as a real town. When writing my story in Peachfield, I set the town south of Savannah so I could make use of all that comes to min when people consider the charm of that historical city.
- Offer something with your fictional setting that a real setting does not. Whether it's a cozy small town or a bustling urban environment, crazy characters or unique businesses, your setting must bring something to the table that is distinct and set apart from real settings. Otherwise, readers are going to wonder why you didn't just set your book in the place the story reminds them of. It would be hard, for instance, to write about a fictional version of New York City, because readers are going to struggle to buy into that. But a posh neighborhood an hour away? Now that's something we can visualize, and you can still make use of the opportunities NYC brings.
- Believability. Don't mistake creative freedom for a dismissal of reality. Your setting still needs to be believable and easy for readers to imagine.
- Voice. Fictional settings can be a great opportunity to really showcase your voice and tweak it according to your whims. I, for instance, wanted a traditional, cozy southern setting without deer hunting and beer drinking. So I made one up. You can do the same. Use a fictional setting as your opportunity to tailor the town to your needs.
- Use your fictional setting as a backdrop for character development. The setting shouldn't just be a place where characters live and interact. Your setting should interact back with them. Be intentional about where you put your characters, because it will shape the tone and feel of your story. Also, consider unexpected settings. Put your characters in a place that makes them nervous, and see what happens. Think Richard Gere in Runaway Bride or Reese Witherspoon when she first comes home in Sweet Home Alabama.
- Make use of Pinterest. I have an entire board on Pinterest dedicated to small town book inspiration. You can see it here. I use these images to get a sense of what life looks like in Peachfield. The neat thing about Pinterest is that you can find and use a bunch of different images as the starting point for your setting, then adapt them to the needs of your characters and story. I even like looking at decorating ideas and wedding dresses my characters might be interested in. The images throughout this blog are all photos I pinned to my Peachfield inspiration board.
Photo from http://iloveswmag.com
Remember that a fictional setting provides you with the unique opportunity to step outside the boundaries of what a town really looks like, and to create a space that is uniquely written for your characters. Make use of that in all its opportunity, and be intentional about matching that setting to the needs of your plot and character arcs.
I couldn't end the blog today without giving you a couple examples from Peachfield. Hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed writing them!
Rain falls harder in Georgia when it's got to keep pace with tears.
Caroline Bailey watched through the window the day her daddy left until her momma made her leave. Thinking, hoping every whistle of the wind was his car turning down their street.
Momma said Caroline had to get ready for the wedding. Had to put her dress on and fix her hair and at least pretend to be happy. So Caroline Bailey did. Pretend, that is.
Until she saw the soft glow of lantern lights and firefly wings, and the smell of honeysuckle caught on the breeze. And for the first time all day, she felt like she could breathe.
She never looked through that window again.
The next section is written in the hero's POV just after he meets the heroine:
Caroline turned on her white canvas shoes. Overhead, long rows of ancient oak trees reached their strong jade arms to provide a covering fit for an angel.
Sunlight filtered through the Spanish moss hanging from the trees, creating a glow around Caroline that transferred the moment into a memory.
Braham had the strangest feeling he’d always remember his first date with Caroline.
Have you ever written a fictional setting? Did you enjoy it? What are some examples from books, TV, and movies, of fictional settings that work well in your opinion?
Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.