Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Without geography, you’re nowhere

What lengths would you go to in order to get the geography right in your books? Is it okay to take liberties?

by Dietrich 

When describing a setting, my aim is to create a believable image, both for the readers who don’t know the location, and particularly for the ones who do. If there’s a point or structure within the setting, I might make it up if one doesn’t exist, or if an imagined one better suits the story. I guess what I’m saying, I don’t have any hard rules. I’m just out to create a connection between the characters and the environment, creating a ring of truth.

Many elements make up a place, and I am careful what I select to create visuals, then I look for ways to bring in the senses to complete it.

“The topography of literature, the fact in fiction, is one of my pleasures 

I mean, where the living road enters the pages of a book, and you are able to stroll along both the real and imagined road.” — Paul Theroux

The details help paint the scene. And to relay it, nothing beats personally experiencing the lands and people I’m writing about. When that isn’t possible — a setting that’s faded in history — then I need to do enough research so I can write confidently. When I feel I know it, it doesn’t matter whether I’ve been there; what matters is that I transport the reader there.

So, while there’s this mix of the real and the imagined, getting the setting right is key, because some mistakes just won’t fly, and an obvious goof would pull the reader from the story. Like if I were to put the statue of Liberty in New York, or if I called Africa a country, or Toronto the capital of Canada. This is where an editor with an eagle’s eye and good fact checker are worth their weight in gold. 

“It is wonderful to be here in the great state of Chicago.” — Dan C. Quayle

“I get to go to overseas places, like Canada.” ― Britney Spears

“When Brian told me he grew up in New Mexico, I told him I thought it is cool that people from other countries play football.” — Terry Bradshaw

“The people of Peru deserve better.” — Dick Cheney, criticizing the former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez

"I love Africa in general — South Africa and West Africa, they are both great countries.” — Paris Hilton

“So, where’s the Cannes Film Festival being held this year?” — Christina Aguilera

On a visit to Chicago, Toronto mayor Rob Ford took the time to chat with pedestrians, one couple telling him they'd been to Canada once, crossing at the Detroit River. The mayor saying, “Oh, Manitoba. Have you been to Winnipeg?”

The second part of the question: It is okay to take liberties? Whether writing stories in past or present, in a real or imagined place, I’ll take whatever liberties I need to make it real and bring the story to life.

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