We've all heard the axiom to write what you know. How about writing what your readers know.
Not too long ago, I took my laptop with me on a trip to Grapevine, Texas, for a convention. In-between meetings, I worked on an author's book. She had asked me to do a copy-edit before her agent sent it out to publishers.
The setting of the book was central Texas. One of the things I especially liked about the manuscript was that I knew the places. I had been to most of the places the author talked about. When the main character went to a coffee shop or restaurant or store, I knew exactly where she was. I could see the places in my head. I even learned some stuff about places that I didn't know.
Personally, when I write, I like to set the book in a town or place that I invent. I enjoy creating the streets, the shops, the atmosphere. I like to draw it out, put in the neighborhoods. I want to create a town so realistic that readers would think it real.
But, I have to admit, it was fun to read about the real "real" places this author let her character visit. People outside of central Texas may not recognize most of the buildings or towns in her book, but those in this area sure would. And it made me want to re-visit places and check out places I hadn't been to before.
She made each place come "alive" without spending pages describing them. She was selective in her descriptions.
To do that, you either have to be intimately acquainted with the settings -- or you have to know enough interesting and pertinent details about a place that you can convince the reader that you're knowledgeable.
The place you describe doesn't have to be accurate down to the smallest detail, but close enough that I know where I am, I feel like the author knows what she/he is talking about, and if something is there that I don't recognize, I don't close the book. I, instead, think, hmm, I don't remember that back room; I'll look for it next time I'm there.
6 months ago