Friday, July 26, 2013

Celebrate the Small Things: 7/26

"The guide book says turn left at the next Starbucks."
"But we're at Stonehenge."

I learned some important lessons this week. 

1) Do research on WIP locations before you outline a whole bunch of action that takes place there.

2) Just because you visited a place as a child doesn't mean you'll remember it enough to write about it.

3) Big cities are not interchangeable.  Case in point: NYC has underground subways, but Chicago's are almost all elevated.  Plus, much of the architecture is different (brownstone condos vs. gray-stone houses).  So you can't write with NYC in your head, pretend it's Chicago, and hope no one notices.

4) If you realize you know nothing about your setting, give a shout-out for help. Someone you know or a friend-of-a-friend will probably volunteer the info you need. 

"I swear that Metro-map said this was a bus stop."


This week I'm celebrating people who help you out
with location details.

Big thanks to everyone on FB who helped me,
especially Elizabeth Arroyo!



Did you ever try to write about a well-known place you haven't been to?  Did you bs it or do research?




This post is part of VikLit's blog hop, Celebrate the Small Things. To be part of this blog hop, all you have to do is follow the link and put your name on the Mr.Linky list, and then be sure to post every Friday about something you're grateful  for that week.  It can be about writing or family or school or general life.  This is the funnest and easiest blog hop ever!


50 comments:

Heather Holden said...

Great lessons! I've had realizations like this, too, both as a writer and an artist. (It's much harder to fix the artistic mishaps, though!)

Cathy Keaton said...

I try not to write about a place I've never been to, if I can help it. Although, I will write about places I haven't been to very many times. When I do need some help, I just look up the place online or watch Youtube videos about it, if possible.

I was going to write a book that took place in Yosemite, even though I've never been there, and found tons of videos on it. That actually did work out, except for the fact that I decided not to continue writing the book.

Lara Lacombe said...

Good points! Like Cathy said above, I don't like to write about a place I've never been. Having said that, it's great you found people to help you get the details right :)

Suzanne Furness said...

Points well worth remembering! Yay for those who help us out with our seemingly endless questions sometimes.

Annalisa Crawford said...

Excellent advice! I recently researched random places via Google Street View - and then didn't really use the research, but at least I had the right images in my head. The interner is pretty good for that kind of thing. I found a great site which celebrated abandoned buildings, which was exactly what I was looking for.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wise advice. In addition to friends, there is a ton of information online.
Hopefully no Tgren ever reads my books since I haven't actually been there.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for the tips. I haven't written about a place I haven't been that's real yet.

Kate Larkindale said...

This is why I never use place names in my books... I have cities and towns in my head, but if I don't name them, no one can call me out for getting a detail wrong, or if I mix two up!

Kelly Hashway said...

Setting can be tricky, especially since it can also change over time.

shelly said...

Good post! So far, I stick with Florida since I live here. One day I'll venture outside of it.

Hugs and chocolate,
Shelly

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

NY also has the El. As a child, I rode it often.

Stephen Hayes said...

I tend to research places I write about if I haven't been there before.

mshatch said...

I research and use google earth whenever possible. The street view tool is pretty cool.

Julie Flanders said...

I did write about Alaska even though I've never been there. I hope I did it justice! I felt like I spent months on google earth LOL.

Happy weekend, Lexa!

Meradeth Houston said...

I've bs'ed a few places, I'll admit. Mostly because there's no way I can get to the past to actually see what the French revolution looked like, or the Civil War (though movies were great for both!). Definitely love it when people online are able to help!

DMS said...

I tend to research any of the places I haven't been- but I love the idea of shouting out for help. I am sure there are lots of people willing to help. :)
~Jess

Carol Kilgore said...

Definitely research. I once threw a book away because a writer put hills and rolling terrain on flat Galveston Island. I think that's why many writers create fictitious locales. The writing community is always helpful :)

Happy Weekend!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Great points Lexa. I too am doing a lot of research for my current WIP.

Elise Fallson said...

In one of my current projects, I'm having to write some scenes that takes place around NYC and it stresses me out that I'll get some of the details totally wrong. Getting someone who knows the city first hand to read it is definitely on my check list. (:

RAJIV SANKARAPILLAI said...

Good post ! Enjoyed reading it.
It is always better to research.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Haha! Love the picture. Great tips too. I usually research places I've never been. They'll often send you brochures in info about the city or area.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I love your advice. Congrats on the award.

klahanie said...

Human Lexa,

Coincidentally, my human was helping out somebody who recently got a book published. Some of the details about locations were completely wrong and my human pointed that out. If you make a mistake in your research, of course, the reader who is aware of the mistake, can find they lose interest in the rest of the book.

Your advice is excellent. I have done a few postings on Vancouver, Canada. Not to be confused with Vancouver, Washington. I'm now heading to Birmingham, England. Not Birmingham, Alabama, y'all.

Pawsitive wishes,

Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar! :)

tfwalsh said...

Most places I write about I haven't been to, but youtube if fantastic to watch tourist videos that show you how the streets look - almost feels like you are there:)

michelle said...

I suppose that's why writers choose fictitious locations. Then it can be whatever you want it to be.
Great tips!
Writer In Transit

E. Arroyo said...

Some great setting info to keep in mind. =) Thanks for the shout out!

Suze said...

Hey! Is that you in the first pic, Lex? Not how I imagined you, at all!

Nancy LaRonda Johnson said...

Lol! Most of my settings are made up. But I did write about a made up city in a certain real part of Lousiana that I'm truly not sure it's even likely. I did some research, but nothing thorough. I'm always wondering if someone will read it and say, "What the heck!" :)

It is great to have friends point those things out instead of some anonymous wanna be someone who's a jerk. Writer’s Mark

Ava Quinn said...

Glad you were able to get the help you needed. I love a happy ending. :) Must be why I write romance. lol!

Mina Lobo said...

Dude, I'm in NY, I'd be happy to help. I can, like, even snap pics of stuff for you, and whatnot. :-)
Some Dark Romantic

Rebeccah Giltrow said...

That's great advice. I tend to write about generic places, so I don't have to worry too much about the colours of bricks or street signs.

Jess said...

I once did a very poor job of researching a city in Switzerland (which featured prominently in the 2nd half of my story) and then happened to get a full request from an agent who had lived there. Yeah...she didn't offer on that manuscript.

VikLit said...

Great tips on location setting!!!

Anne R. Allen said...

So true! I love using Google maps. It's great for finding out how long it takes to drive from one place to another. And for actually looking at a site. But friends are good too. Sometimes a tweet will get you amazing on the ground info. Great post!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

That is why I set most of my fantasies in New Orleans -- although just for my own satisfaction, I did reams of research when I set several of them in 1834 New Orleans! Great post. :-)

Lynda R Young said...

I enjoy researching so I do tend to research a place before I use it as a setting. yay for google maps too. I made the mistake once of writing about a place first then doing the reserach... lol.

Annie said...

These are all important points! If I can't go to a place I'm writing, I try to do lots of research and use my best buddy: Google Earth. ;)

S.K. Anthony said...

Location writing advice, I love it! Really good points too... I actually have NYC subway in my book, but then I live here so I know that hehehe. Since I can't travel around too much I plan on using Google a lot to find out more about locations if I need to ;)

LD Masterson said...

I wanted to set a short story in the city where my son lives so I fed him the sites I needed - i.e. a city park surrounded by both business and residential areas (so a person would be walking through on her way home from work) - and he gave me the locations that would fit. When I was finished, he proofed it for setting accuracy. I'm not sure I'd want to do that for a novel but for the short story it worked fine.

Maynard Morrissey said...

You still could invent your own town, or just combine these two. What about "New Cago" or "Chi York"? ;-)

Misha Gericke said...

I do, yes. My method is to sort of do both. Lots of research and photos. But also keeping the focus away from details so that I don't make any glaring mistakes...

Tammy Theriault said...

I'm nodding and laughing. Great post and true true true

Kim said...

That's so true. I had that problem a with one of my first stories. I had never visited Europe and wrote about it like it was in Harry Potter ... then I actually visited and realized the trains there are nothing like the Hogwart Express.

Ms Misantropia said...

Haha, what Kim above here just wrote is hilarious - we all live at Hogwart's!
I have only ever written short stories, so long elaborate descriptions of places are uncalled for - luckily :)

Laurel Garver said...

Google street view can be a great tool to a degree (scoping out places ahead and refreshing your memory once you've left a place). You can of course invent towns that are an amalgam of real places. But I think credibility to your audience is too important to skimp on research. For my first novel I took five trips to NYC to get details right, and a trip to the UK also. I filled in with lots of interviews. As a "tourist," there are a lot of things you won't pick up about a place, like how trusting and kind (or paranoid and aloof) are the neighbors?

One rough thing about writing actual settings--they change over time, sometimes while you are drafting or shortly after release. I have a scene happen at a London train station that has since refurbished and now has strict security barriers (I discovered to my chagrin last month). My scene could only have happened years ago. I might publish a revised edition and actually date the story so this isn't a problem.

Medeia Sharif said...

I use settings I know about.

I agree about childhood knowledge. I've visited places I haven't seen in years and have they changed!

Crystal Collier said...

THIS is why I LOVE google maps. Seriously, what would I do without a global satellite to do my dirty work for me? But seriously, I believe in visiting a place at least once if I'm going to write about it, and please people, DON'T WRITE NYC UNLESS YOU'VE SPENT SOME SERIOUS TIME THERE. It's so varied and distinct, even within the 5 Boroughs. I imagine it would be much the same with any other major city, but that's the only one I've been brave enough to survive.

nutschell said...

Great tips! I used Google Maps when writing my first book. Then I eventually got the chance to actually visit the setting. It definitely changed the way I wrote the next few drafts.
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Romance Reader said...

Even with research and Google maps, my imagination only relies on place I really visited! Great post!

Nas

Jocelyn Rish said...

I'm terrible with settings/geography. I'm not even sure I could describe the town I've spent the last 20 years living in. I completely made up a town for my WIP, and several beta readers have pointed out that the layout makes absolutely no sense. I tried drawing it and they're right - I'd suck at town planning. :-)