Using Your Hometown As Setting
First, a big thank you to Delilah for having me here. I’m Lynn Crain and I love to talk about my hometown. Both of them.
I’m sure that has you curious but first a little background. My home is a small town in southern Nevada. It’s one of those artsy places that gets really hot in the summer. I’ve lived there since I was a kid and never thought I’d leave for any reason. Sure, I’d been begging my husband for years to take me to a place that had seasons. I was tired of just having two: hot and cold. I kid you not. There is very little time where the climate is beautiful where I live.
There are very hot southwest summers where temperature soars to over a hundred on any given day. In the winter the wind can chill you to your bones. It seems that there is a month where spring and fall should be when it’s absolutely beautiful but not much more than that. Yet in the winter it is a mecca for older folks who no longer like living in harsher climates.
Yet, it is a wonderful place to set a series. And I have but it’s on a back burner for the moment. Why? Because in May of 2011, I got my wish to move somewhere that has four seasons. Count them. Spring, summer, fall and winter. There’s snow on the ground at least some of the time. The place gets barren and I get to see the spring bringing forth life after the cold winter. The summer has rain and while it is hot, it’s a different hot. Fall is a congruence of color that I can watch outside my window. What girl could ask for more? It was what I wished for…right?
Well, sort of, as I really wanted to stay closer to home. We moved to the interesting city of Vienna, Austria. The move was hard on me to say the least. I had to get used to a different language, a different lifestyle and living in a flat. I had to get used to a husband who traveled a lot and being alone a lot.
At first, I sulked. I didn’t like it here and I would tell anyone who would listen. The people are stoic and sometimes rude here. I got a dog and people started noticing me suddenly. There was weirdness all around and I was flustered and frustrated by my new life. So I did what any red-blooded American writer would do…I started a series about my new hometown…as a way of self-preservation. I figured if I learned more about my new home, it would become easier to live here. And it has in many ways.
Still, there are some rules when using your own hometown as a place to set a novel or even a series. Here are a few guidelines to help you on your way:
Decide if you’re writing a stand-alone novel or a series of books.
This will help you in planning your strategy for plotting and writing. If it’s a stand-alone book, there’s usually no problem as you continue to work it like you would any other story. With a series, especially in romance, you need to have something that links them be it characters or place. In my case, I’ve chosen Vienna as the basis for a short series of romance books. Romance books are unique as far as series goes as they don’t necessarily follow the same characters throughout the series. Usually, the next book is about a new couple. Again, that couple or situation or setting needs to be linked to the first book in the series in a manner that will be repeated through the entire series. Also, decide on the series title if you can at this stage. Most of the time, I know what the series will be called before I finish the first book. The series set in Nevada is called the Nevada Night series whereas the books set here in Vienna are all part of the A Taste of Vienna series because all of them take place in or very close to the city.
One thing to note, science fiction and fantasy series are usually about the same characters with the addition of new characters to make the story fresh. Many involve a quest or a search for something that the characters need or want to make life pleasant. Many are called to the quest not because they want to be but because of circumstance. This is what makes these genres very different from romance as far as series goes.
Do your research even though you know about the place you live in.
There is nothing I hate worse than to see a series set in Las Vegas where they get nothing right. I’ve lived in that area for over 40 years and some things remain the same after all this time. If you are going to use real places and real historical people, make sure you get them correct. I remember reading a book about Vegas where the person was describing the Strip and they had every hotel on the wrong side of the road. I did this for Vienna as well. I did a lot of historical research and current research into customs, how people live and what they do. Yet, I wrote the first story from the perspective of an American experiencing it for the first time. Why? I wanted to get that awe and wonder factor in my character. Sure, some of it is opinion but a lot of it was based upon actual experiences from the first year of living in the city. I used the Christkindlemarkts and the Adventmarkts because they were some of the things I love about the city during the holiday season. I collaborated with native Austrians to get the feel and the setting right. There will always be something you don’t know about where you live. It’s those obscure little facts that readers love. Use them to your advantage.
Define your characters.
Whether doing a single book or a series, whether using your hometown as a setting or not, you have to know your characters. When I wrote the series about southern Nevada, I wrote about what I knew and have a very unique character. She is an off-road racer in a field dominated by men. I could do this because I had a brother and a son who were well-known in their class of off-road racing. They were willing to let me in on secrets and other aspects of racing that only insiders knew.
When I started my series in Vienna, I knew the setup was completely different. I knew I wanted at least one of the main characters in each book to be American, the others were up for grabs. In the first book, A Viennese Christmas, they are both Americans who work for the UN. In the second book, to be released in November, the heroine is American and the hero is Greek. This city has a plethora of foreigners who live and work here. I have to do my research very carefully because I don’t necessarily have an insider’s view but again, I have an American view of someone living here.
Sure, sometimes it’s hard to find inspiration if you’ve been in the same town for 40 years. But take a good look at where you live. Does it give off the small town vibe? Mine does. It’s a small town who touts the fact that gambling is illegal inside its city limits. Only town in Nevada to have that moniker. That in itself makes my hometown unique. It also has a renaissance faire, an art show called Art in the Park that has an estimated 50k a year visiting, is the town that built Hoover Dam and a host of other interesting tidbits. All this in a town of only fifteen thousand people.
In Vienna, all I have to do is to look out my office window and think about how it was here a couple hundred years ago. This place oozes history from Roman times to today. I love going to Carnuntum, the site of a Roman gladiator school to rival Rome. I love going to the palaces and the museums and all the other places close to this city of nearly two million. Yet, things happen here that don’t happen elsewhere in the world. It’s a UN city with lots of dignitaries running around, it’s a city known for music, has a palace to rival Versailles and has taken a pact of neutrality. It is prime fodder for a series, be it mine or someone else’s, but I plan on giving it a shot.
Brainstorm with your critique group or writing partner or even good friends.
Once you have some of the basics down like setting and characters, do some plot planning before you start to write. This is easiest done in a brainstorming session with your writing buddies or whoever supports you while you write. I usually put the basics down and maybe a chapter or two then present it to my group and ask if they think this will even work. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes a maybe and sometimes a no way. I get honest and great feedback from my group, which allows me to make a decision and move forward, no matter what the decision. After all, a writer needs to write.
This is above and beyond the general proposal mentioned in number six. This is where you plant your butt to the chair and put in the time to get out a good story. I say good because it’s rare that someone will have an excellent first draft. The idea is to get it down on paper, or in most of our cases, on-screen and then start the finessing part of making it great. I agree 100% with Nora Roberts when she says, and this is me paraphrasing it, to get your story down on paper first and worry about the rest later.
Once your book is complete and you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s, check it one more time to make sure your setting is as correct as possible. Again, readers will let you know if something doesn’t sound right or if they know it to be absolutely wrong.
Whether this book is for submission to a traditional publishers, large or small, or even if you’re going to self-publish, you want it to be the best it can be. Either way, you will have one more chance to verify facts and again, do so just to be sure. It never hurts.
Then start writing that next book because the faster you get the next one out, the better.
Those are my basic guidelines for using your hometown as the setting for your next novel. Hopefully, I’ve helped some of you…and don’t hesitate to email if you have any questions…good luck with your story!
A Viennese Christmas
A Taste of Vienna Book 1
Amanda Kranz, alone in Vienna, Austria at Christmas, meets sexy, historian Henry Jager, who convinces her true love is real and within her grasp. Read the rest of this entry »