A month and a half ago, my fiancee and I moved from Connecticut to Baltimore. The arty, weird, almost anarchic qualities of Baltimore City seemed to be a perfect fit for a quirky couple like us. The fact that Lauren’s a Baltimore native didn’t hurt either. We hired movers (a whole other ordeal) and hit the road, moving in to the Hampden neighborhood immortalized in countless John Waters films.
Through being co-founder and co-publisher of Beautiful Losers Magazine, I’ve had the opportunity to partner with two talented writers, Austin Wiggins and Dario Cannizzaro. Austin and Dario have both recently released new collections of short fiction (check them out in the links at the end of the post). Seeing Austin and Dario put out such quality works inspired me to write my first book. Without getting into too much detail, the novel is about an underground cabal of high-powered individuals clandestinely engaging in child abuse. This story, like any other, needs a setting. While the cabal operates out of New York (my hometown, a city I know like the back of my hand), the protagonist is a Baltimore native. Of course, being new to the city, depicting Baltimore authentically can be a challenge.
So, how did I tackle that challenge of writing Baltimore and not looking like an outsider or someone who had no idea what he was doing? Simple – I followed a few basic principles.
- Explore Your Location. If your setting is in a real place, or even if it’s a fictionalized version of a real location, visit the place! Talk to people from there, frequent restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other establishments. Get an idea of the culture. Even just walking around observing people (not in a creepy way!) and the location can do wonders towards understanding a place. If a location is too far away and/or not financially possible to visit, simply go to the Internet. YouTube has videos of virtually every location on the planet. Watch them!
- Ask Questions. Find a native from the place you intend to write about and ask them whatever questions you might have. If you don’t have any friends or family from that location, again, take to the Internet.
- Treat The Location As A Character. Many novice writers make the mistake of either writing too much or too little description in their novels. Hit the right balance by integrating the location whenever possible into your story, but don’t overdo it. You want your readers to feel as if the story is taking place in a specific location/s, not in some formless world. That said, your novel isn’t a Wikipedia article either.
- Modern Day, The Past, or The Future? If you’re writing about a setting from the past, do your research. If it’s the recent past, interview people who lived through the era. If you’re writing about a setting in the future, examine the location in its current state and make predictions about how it will differ in the near or distant future.
- Live There. Nothing’s better than total immersion if you want to authentically capture the feel of a place, but if that’s not feasible, the first four options should more than suffice.
Do you have any tips for writing setting that might help our readers? Share them with a comment!
If you’re having difficulty with writing the setting and need a ghostwriter or developmental editor, consider working with me by clicking here.