Putting out a call for guest bloggers a few weeks ago was one of my best decisions so far of 2021. I have had a fabulous response and today is the first guest blog post of the new year.
Please give a warm welcome to romance novelist Emme Jordan who has come to take over my blog for the day.
The first 40 thousand words of my first novel involved a Chicago location. I live in Devon (useful for a fiction writer) and I’ve visited the wonderful city of Chicago many times. But the location wasn’t working for my romance storyline; I had as many bridges between chapters as the Chicago River has for pedestrians, except I had no idea of how to avoid being drenched.
So I made myself a cup of tea and had a think; my male protagonist (Cain) was supposed to be in the USA, his long-distance love (Lucy) lived in London. I possibly dunked a hob nob or two into my tea to aid the thinking.
What if Cain was British and from Cornwall, but worked in America? Lucy could still teach at her university in London. They could still spend time apart, with brief moments together. How is a relationship built when you’re 6000 miles from each other?
I rewrote the 40 thousand words – with the aid of the rest of the biscuit tin – removing Chicago altogether (and thanking Microsoft for Find/Replace). I’d heard of writer’s ruthlessly killing off their darlings during edits, but I was beginning to learn how important location is in a story. Here’s why, and what you should consider:
To connect with readers
Imagine your favourite book (Wuthering Heights) or film (Dirty Dancing) and put the characters in the opposite location. Cathy and Heathcliff pottering about the cobbles of London’s East End or Baby and Johnny in an LA club – the characters would probably act differently, the storyline would very likely change. Whether writers create their own locations (Hogwarts) or use familiar landmarks (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) to tell their stories, the visual images should connect with the reader, offering insights into character’s actions alongside your memorable backdrop.
For the ultimate escape
When I pick up a book I want to disappear for a few hours, whether to a location I’m unfamiliar with, or one I know very well. The story, rightly, is more important than location, otherwise I’d read one of my travel guides. As yet, the only book I think I’ve chosen to read because of location was Kiley Dunbar’s Christmas at Frozen Falls, because it’s set in the beautiful Finnish Lapland, which I went to a few years ago with Mini Reader and Kiley’s description is just gorgeous and spot on. Which leads us to the next point:
Do your research thoroughly
You don’t have to have visited a place to write about it. You may really, really want to visit one day, which is your reason for using that location in your writing. You may have even visited a very long time ago and have nostalgic memories of a place.
Wherever your location is, you should research and fact-check online. My second novel has so many locations in (neither character is a travel writer) that I had to reach for the biscuit tin again to decide if I needed to scale down the itinerary. But each destination has a purpose within the story and to remove one would necessitate another rewrite (which I’d have been happy to do, even if my waistline wasn’t). I’ve been to lots of the locations – Newquay (nurturing place for the artist), Nashville (music city), Hong Kong (transit city, unexpected behaviours), Thailand (stunning beaches) – but I still spent a lot of time researching, especially food, language, manners, time zones (for activities and meals during phone calls 12 hours apart). I once watched a 30 minute video from a keen traveller who had recorded the journey from Hong Kong airport to the city, which had been just what I needed so that I knew which side of the bus my passenger needed to be on to see the South China Sea up close. Whatever you need to know is out there, just check that your sources are reliable.
Add real and sensory information to your story
If I’m reading a description of a walk from a house to the sea, I want to be the friendly ghost walking behind the characters, hearing the same waves, seeing the different same shades of blue, smelling the same salt. I don’t want to trip over anything that halts the storyline, or distracts from their conversation, because the writer forgot to mention that it’s night time, the sun has set and the temperature has dropped. Taking time to add the right realistic and sensory information to your characters’ surrounds is like adding just the right amount of Cornish sea salt to your chips – too much and you’ll create the wrong impression with your readers. Just right and the scenes will resonate with readers long after the last page.
How much location?
As with your characters and their personalities, research and make notes on your location, even if it’s unnamed. You’ll know whether you’re dealing with a forest, a Nepalese mountain, a seaside village, or a city centre. Your story could include long, detailed journeys across the world (by train, plane or boat) or be told behind the closed doors of a deserted mansion (whether in the middle of nowhere or at the end of the road is up to you as a writer). You’ll know when you have just the right of information about your location, and when it’s over-riding the story…and when you’re planning your next trip instead of plotting your next scene.
Where are your favourite stories located?
About me – Emma Jordan
Follow the sweet long-distance love of Lucy and Cain in Everything, Except You, then catch up with Lucy’s feisty sister Elle and Cain’s drummer, Jam in Everything and Nothing. There’s also a little winter read (which can be enjoyed in the summer, too) celebrating all four characters, and bringing in a couple more – Everything This Christmas.
My next novel in the series, Everything For Her, is due out in Summer 2021.
Love (really is everything)
Emma Jordan, after travelling the world for most of her 20s and 30s,now lives in Devon, raising a mini reader and disappearing into as many romance reads as she can, via ebook and paperback. Is on social media a lot, and loves to say hello to readers. And non-readers.