Locating the Story

Every story has a place, a location.

Rex Stout’s dectective, Nero Wolfe, lives in a luxurious brownstone on West 35th Street in New York, although I’ve never been there and can’t tell you whether West 35th Street has, or once had, luxurious brownstones.

Anne McCaffrey’s dragon series takes place on Pern, a planet so well described you may feel you actually live there.  When I first read it, I almost started searching the sky for dragons and dragon riders.  You may feel that way about The Hunger Games.

Mitford, North Carolina, is a completely mapped town you’d expect to find on a State map, but the Mitford books are fiction.  Mitford is the setting for Jan Caron’s stories about Father Tim, the boy Dooley, the dog Barnabas…

I either choose places I know for my fiction, or I do extensive research with maps, photos, and reading what others have written about that place.

You could find where Derek and Nate live by studying the text for nearby towns which I name, but there’s a reason why their home towns are not named.  I may use maps of the areas and actual street names (how many towns have Fourth Street or Maple Street?), but you won’t find the Bradford’s farmhouse or barns by following Derek’s path to town, and the layout of the high school, while I could draw you a diagram, won’t match the building you would see. There is a park with a pond where Derek hides when he skips school, but I’m not sure about the cattails that screen him from the street.  I start with a template based on a place I know, or knew in the years in which the story is set, but the story constructs the town.

The sort of residential street where my characters Kate and Willard live.
Willard and Kate live on this street,, but I know–don’t ask me how–that their home has white siding, brick facing around the front door, and blue shutters. This might be one of their neighbors.



Beginning the Journey

An author’s first problem is where to begin the story.  An author’s last problem is to find out if the story begins in the right place.

For Two Roads, I expected the story to begin and end with Derek and Nate standing under a street light and making the decisions that would start or complete the action.

By the second draft, I knew that would be as if the brothers dropped from outer space; where did they come from? Why here?  Is this a chance meeting, or is there something behind it?  Why weren’t they together in the first place?

So I backed up. First I backed up too far and added stuff that didn’t matter either to Derek and Nate or to you, the reader.  Delete key.

But before Derek reaches that lighted spot, I must show you where he comes from and why he’s coming now.

Then Derek and Nate can get together.

Henry and Beezus: Beverly Cleary

I didn’t meet Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby when I was growing up.  Fortunately I haven’t outgrown children’s books.  Now I am enjoying Beverly Cleary’s books about Henry, Beezus, and Ramona.

Henry wants a bicycle.  I have heard the answer from Henry’s parents myself, and as a parent I’ve had to tell our children the same:  “I wish you [had one] too…but with prices and taxes going up all the time, I’m afraid we can’t give you one this year.”

So Henry, with help from his friend Beezus and interference from her little sister Ramona, tries to earn his bike.   Along the way, teachers have a huge problem with bubble gum, Henry finds out how dog food tastes, and his school mates won’t let him forget about his coupon for free false eyelashes.