Note: This article is lengthy.
Having a location to visualize when writing a scene puts the writer on the stage with the characters. For me the process of selecting locations for my work is complex even as it’s fun.
The Why. Choosing a setting for a novel is an important step in its creation. It sets the tone for the reader so they can identify with the tale but it also provides the foundation for character behavior. A number of factors encompass the location.
- Locations within locations (i.e. business, residences, infrastructure, etc)
When Dragon Core began to take form as a viable idea for a story, the only location piece I had was a bar.
There is a historical element that factors into the plot but that was easily dealt with. I simply needed to do a bit of research on historical events to get a feel for that environment/location.
Just prior to Christmas I came up with the name of the bar – Aesop’s Cove – but otherwise had no details on the location or setting.
Outside that it would be in an urban environment.
Urban Fantasy. For several months I considered whether to use a real urban environment or make one up. In the end I decided on a hybrid.
The decision to use a hybrid came from the need and desire to pull elements from a variety of locations.
Considerations. Portland and New Orleans were both in the running for a long time but each presented unique challenges for my story.
New Orleans. To represent the city with justice I would need to provide insider details that add vibrancy to the story, and I haven’t lived in New Orleans for decades.
There would also be elements I didn’t want to bring into the story, such as Cajun lifestyle, Mardi Gras, hurricanes, and the oil and gas industry. These don’t fit into my storyline but would have to be dealt with if not included were I to choose this city.
Portland. The layout of this city – that it is on a river as opposed to the coast – meant I would have to make alterations to the overall environment. There are also cultural norms for this city that I didn’t want to use as a focus in my story.
Hybrid to the rescue. In spite of the challenges, these two cities definitely provided potential by way of locations within the location.
In other words, neighborhoods within the city at large that held elements conducive to scenes in the Dragon Core series.
These neighborhoods provided some of the vibe I was looking for. They also contained businesses and/or architectural uniquenesses that I was happy to include in the location I was building.
Living within the location. I decided the characters would not only work in an urban environment; they would live there. This led to the need to choose the type of living situation they were going to have.
- Condo, loft, apartment, or house?
- Roommates or not?
- Walk to work, take public transportation, or drive a car?
These were some of the details I needed to work out. Having lived in several urban environments throughout my life I was able to draw from my own experiences for these details.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit other urban environments throughout the years, traveling for work, so was able to pull details from those experiences as well.
Work within the location. In this case, it helps to have an understanding of what any specific urban environment is known for. Large metropolitan areas are often associated with a specific industry and the nuances that go along with the people, places, and businesses that feed that environment.
There is a symbiotic relationship between the industries and the communities that surround those industries.
- Detroit/Midwest with its auto industry and union influences
- New Orleans with its Voodoo culture, Mississippi River, and oil and gas industry
- Los Angeles with its Hollywood and Bel-Air vibe along with being the land of dreams if not dreamers.
- San Francisco/Silicon Valley with its tech and Gold Rush boom bust history
I pulled from a number of cities along the west coast when creating Dragon Core’s urban environment.
- San Diego
- San Francisco
I also pulled in from a specific neighborhood in New Orleans.
History within the location. In addition to where the characters currently live, I needed to decide where they came from.
While important for cultural influences such a location isn’t as detail dependent as the current location/setting. In fact, it was more important to elaborate on personal experiences than environmental details as they have more impact on my character development.
The stage within location. I use the term stage to refer to a scene setting within an overall environment. In the case of Dragon Core there are a few main stages.
- Aesop’s Cove
- Clare’s office
- Warehouse Square
Each of these stages requires a location and setup of their own. I drew from personal experience when creating them.
Warehouse Square. For this location setting I drew from Washington and Jackson Squares in San Francisco, the area in and around Portland’s Chinatown as well as the area near Voodoo Donut, and Pioneer Square in Seattle.
Clare’s Office. For this setting I visualized the building I worked in my senior year in high school as well as the area around one of the police stations in San Francisco.
Aesop’s Cove. This was a toughie. For whatever reason I felt I had to really be able to “wear” this location when writing.
In order to get into the vibe of the interactions with the characters as well as the mood of the place and the people within that place as it changes throughout the story.
I visited a couple of prospects for locations that would fit the vibe I was looking for.
I visited new locations as well as bringing to mind various pubs or bars I’ve been in over the years.
Goldilocks would be proud. There is a scene in Cauldron of the Gods where I have the character – Clare Edwards – reflecting on the fact her friend described Aesop’s Cove as gritty sophistication.
She tells him she doesn’t want to go to a dive bar to which he replies “Have you ever been in a dive bar that could be described as sophisticated?
To be in the vibe when writing scenes taking place in Aesop’s Cove, I needed a bar that was “just right” (aka gritty sophistication). It was more difficult to find than I thought it would be.
- Some bars were too gritty.
gritty = dive.
- Some bars were too sophisticated.
Sophistication = yuppy and/or beautiful people and/or trust fund babies
With a little imagination I was able to find one that worked though it had enough differences that I needed to meld it with a different location in my mind to get it just right. The result is Aesop’s Cove, a combination of a place in Pioneer Square in Seattle and a brewery in San Diego.
I’m not going to disclose names only because I don’t want to leave anyone with the wrong impression since Aesop’s Cove, while inspired by real locations, is made up. It doesn’t exist.
Synchronicities. I did have a pretty cool experience visiting the bar that serves as the primary inspiration for Aesop’s Cove. One of the distinctive features of the character who owns Aesop’s Cove – Lage McAskell – is the color of his eyes. When visiting a very cool bar in a historical part of Pioneer Square, I explained to the lady behind the bar what I was doing and would it be okay if I took a few photos of the place.
I’d also taken photos of the area that I can reference when trying to pull up an image for a scene in the story
She had no issue with it and after I placed an order for food and wine, she gave me her name, Amber.
Amber is the distinctive feature for the main character, the color of his eyes.
I do so love synchronicities.
It’s like life giving you a thumb’s up.