Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How Important is Location in a Story?

I am struggling to find the answer as I return to my WiP after the holidays.
In my experience as a reader (which is certainly much broader than my experience as a writer) the relevance of location can be categorized in one of three ways.
In some novels, location is tantamount to the story and a different city or country may result in a new novel.  Think of Dan Brown's works - without Rome, Angels and Demons would be a different experience.  The same applies to The Help.

In other novels, you could change the location without anyone even noticing - this is especially true in novels that focus on the journey of the main character and everthing else is secondary and provides only shades of enrichment to the story. The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty falls into this category as does Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

The most difficult one, of course, is the one into which my WiP falls, along perhaps with the majority of novels.  The place and time are too intertwined with the story and provide an amount of detail or explanation without which it no longer works - or works differently than intended.  Novels I see as falling into this category include Milan Kundera's Slowness and Janet Fitch's White Oleander. 

And my WiP.  It is set in Eastern Europe.  The average reader would probably prefer a setting in the US, but I feel that my story (and my character's journey) is too intertwined with history and place and I can't change it without losing meaning.

Better to loose (potential) readers than the story. 


  1. I see your point, but a well written book will not lose readers. It will create travelers.

  2. You have to be happy with what you write or it'll show in your work.
    If you write it well, people will love it for the story :o)

  3. I agree--if the story suffers, then changing it isn't worth extra readership.

    Good luck with your WIP!

  4. Location is a tricky thing for a book. If your story is one like the Mortal Instruments series where it takes place in New York City, but could just of easily taken place in London because the location is not central to the plot, then choose wherever you like! I don't think your readers will care.

    But if you write a story like The Lord of the Rings, where it takes places in a land of its own, full of plot points that need those specific details in order to function, then changing location is not a wise choice. I mean, can you imagine that story anywhere else but Tolkien's world?

    Play with it a little. If you like it where it is, then go with it. But if you want to put it somewhere else (and it won't hurt your story), then move it there.

    It's your story; tell it like YOU want to. :)

  5. Very interesting thoughts! I write contemporary fantasy, and so location is definitely entertwined with the story. It seems to me that where we live has a definite impact upon our understanding of the world around us. Culture is a huge influence. Our characters would not be the same "people" if they were in a different location, so I say good for you for being true to your characters!

  6. Hey! I left you an award on my blog :)

  7. Followed Cassie's blog here! I love what you've got! :)

    SO nice to *meet* you :)

  8. Absolutely. My stories tend to be in very rural Britain. A CP suggested I spread my wings a bit. I shook my head and hid under my duvet for a day :)
    Nice to meet you

  9. I like that - "create travelers." Thanks Hallie.

    And thank you Iain, The Golden Eagle, Vicki, and Lara for your thoughts and support - I really can't worry about readers - if the story is not good, who will read it?

    Cassie, thank you for the award! and Kelley and Laura, nice to meet you too!


  10. Hey, Tammy! I found your blog when you became a follower of mine ( Thanks! I have loved looking through your blog!

    On setting, I think London would be an enchanting, exciting setting for any book. One tip I read, loved, and remember is from Donald Maass' books on writing. He talks about linking the setting to the character's emotions. Rain is only rain unless it is used to depict the unseen tears a character can no longer cry after the loss of a loved one. Rocky mountains are only just that unless they allude to a character's inner struggles, climbing one mountain only to find another, etc... This tip makes the setting more real, personal, and necessary. It has helped my writing!

    Wonderful blog! Let me know if you ever want to do guest blogging on each other's blogs (would help me much more than it would help you, seeing as how you have 90+ followers and I have 6). :)

  11. Sorry, E.D. I clicked on the wrong link (thus the "Tammy"). I appologize. I love your blog anyway and will keep checking in. :)

    1. Thank you Lo for the comment and for visiting :-)

  12. Setting is so important but I do think it can make a story resonate more with a reader if used wisely. As you say, some stories would just not be the same without the direct effect of location. My latest book is set in Middle England at the time of the Great Plague so is a timeslip novel as well as the true location of some pretty dramtic events. Great post ED. Happy writing in 2012!

    1. Thank you Pat - I do think that in most cases the setting does add something extra, whatever one may call it, even if not essential to the story. Maybe a feeling, a sense of place. Congratulations on your latest book and happy writing to you too! Thanks for visiting!