Monday, February 16, 2015

Location, Location, Location- 5 Ways to make your novel more believable

There are lots of ways to draw the reader in. Characters, drama, conflict, location...Ah, yes, let's talk about this today. Location is a very important thing. Not where you write, but where you write about. Did you know the streets of San Juan are paved with blue glazed cobblestones?

In my novel Sweet Dreams, several locations are mentioned. Most real and one totally made up. The story takes place in Maple Grove, a fictional town about three hours north of San Francisco, California. There are also scenes in Pompeii, Naples, Amalfi, and...I think that's it. Although other cities, including San Francisco, are mentioned.

My holiday short, Angels in Disguise, featured in Unwrapping Love, takes place in Santa Monica.

In Choosing to Dream, the sequel to Sweet Dreams, coming soon, we return to Maple Grove, but also travel to Denver and Malibu.

Blah, blah, blah, I have another book coming out. I know, get to the point.

It's because of research I've been doing on my current WIP, a summer short entitled Sea Breeze scheduled for release this summer, that I'm writing this post. The story takes place on a Caribbean cruise and there are a couple of places where my FMC and MMC will be going ashore.

Let me say this now. I've never, to date, been on a cruise or to the places featured in Sea Breeze, although I hope to someday. So what is a writer to do?

Here's what I do:

  1. Get in the map- For goodness sakes, find your location on a map and study it. If you are talking about Amalfi, Italy, which is in the south, you can't reference a thirty minute drive to Lake Como, which is close to the boarder of Switzerland when in reality it's a nine hour drive. Know the lay of the land. It doesn't hurt to look at a street map as well, especially if you are going to be referencing real street names and places. And by all means, look at pictures.
  2. Get up and go- Yeah, this would be my personal preference too. In a perfect world, I would be able to travel to all the locations I write about. Italy, Puerto Rico, Jamaica...sigh. I have a friend who is also a writer, traveling next week to Ireland to write on location. Yes, she is writing a novel that has scenes set in Ireland and is traveling there to write. Lucky wench. Can you tell I'm jealous? I should be on a cruise ship to San Juan right now for research, but alas, it's not in the budget this month. Ah well, I hope someday to have the kind of success as a writer, that I can travel the globe, using my travels and experiences as research for my books.
  3. Been there, done that- Write what you know. We've heard it a million times, but in this situation, I'm talking about location. I can write about San Francisco with ease and confidence because I was born and lived most of my life there. I know what it smells like on a foggy fall evening. I know what bus to take to get from point A to point B, and I know what each and every neighborhood is called and how to get there. I've been to Italy, so I used some of my experience there to help with writing about it in Sweet Dreams.
  4. Eat, drink, dance- Go seek out a new restaurant that serves authentic food from the location you are writing about. Your heroine is traveling in Indonesia? Go have Indonesian food. You live in Farmville USA middle of nowhere, and can't find an authentic restaurant for the place you are writing about? Look up a recipe online. Try the staples and the local beverages. Oh, and listen to the music. It doesn't have to be the original indigenous music of the locale, or it could. But it could also be what is popular there now. Is there a famous singer from that area? Look them up on iTunes.Writing about Puerto Rico? Go listen to some reggaeton or salsa and bust a move. Can't find a club or bar that plays this kind of music locally? Find a radio station that does. Look up videos on the ethnic dance of the region.
  5. Hot or cold- Find out what the weather is like in the location you are writing about. Figure out the time of year and what to expect. Does it snow. Is it 90 degrees and humid? Should I expect cicadas? Ew.
So you are writing about Wisconsin. You've never been there, but that is the locale for your story. Google it. Get in a map, and virtually walk the streets. Do your research. Look up good eats online and on Yelp. Find out where locals hang out. What is the food like? Does the younger crowd listen to pop, rock, or country music? What's the weather like at the time of year your story takes place?

Lastly, if you have created your own world or fictional place, you will need to also create all of the above and write it down. Draw a map of your village or world and where each place you mention is so you can be consistent. Keep notes about the food, weather, culture, streets, get the drift.

In any case, these are things I do to make sure my writing is accurate in the location department. Believe me, I would love to hear a person in San Juan, Puerto Rico was reading my book. Let's hope I got the lay of the land correct so I don't piss them off.

Writers, are there any tricks you use to keep your locations authentic that you can share?
Readers, have you ever read a book about a location you were familiar with and found inconsistencies?
Let me know your experiences.
Thanks for reading.
You can find me online at


  1. Enhancing the map idea, I use street view in google earth. You can use it to "walk" around the neighborhood and see what's there, get a feel for the sort of people who hang out in the area, what stores, parks, etc. are available, what sort of traffic is on the streets.

    1. I've done that as well and it really helps. Thanks for reading.