Creating a believable setting isn’t as easy as you might think. Using a place you know as a backdrop is easier, but what if your action can’t all be done at real locations? Time to get inventive.
By inventive, I don’t mean digging out road maps to some city that fits your needs, why not make something up?
For So Much It Hurts, among others, I wanted a big city, but didn’t want to use NYC, Chicago or other metropolis. Why? Because I’m basically lazy and don’t fancy the research. Also, if I get my facts wrong, someone will call me on it. As I don’t much like the idea of engaging internet trolls, I chose to make my own.
This city has no name. I couldn’t come up with a name that sounded credible. I hate the hokey names they give cities in soap operas (and Sunnydale was taken) I didn’t want more trolls crawling out of the woodwork telling me their city has that name and X was wrong with my tale. Therefore, it is a mysterious city somewhere near Canada and west of NYC, but east of Chicago.
I created some landmarks—a magnificent art deco hotel, a newspaper, a coffee shop, mall, art gallery, museums, aquarium and other sights to see. There is no map except the one in my mind, traffic is as busy or not as I choose. Some characters live in a ritzy development near the lake, others in less pricey and prestigious areas of the city.
An architectural firm does remodels of old, historic buildings—making exclusive condos from an old department store, for example.
The City has spies, thieves, billionaires, wealthy old families, nouveau riche, doctors, lawyers and rock stars.
There are upscale suburbs, low class urban areas, sleepy small towns a few miles away from the craziness of the city—idyllic, quiet, crime free, there is a lake nearby and mountains. In short, any environment I want, is available. I have all flexibility I want with none of the real life hassles.
To keep it believable, I have traffic jams, crimes,emergencies, accidents—all the things we have in real life. They aren’t the focus of my story, but the bustle of the city is always there. I’ve written a lot of books in this imaginary setting, so many, she has become very real to me. She’s as much a character as the people who live in her environs.
Why do I refer to the City as She? Because, she is like a mother to the people who live there. She sets guardians to watch over them, doing their best to protect her young. Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people (or bad people, as the case may be) and the City’s guardians can’t save them all. That doesn’t stop them from trying.
The first story written in my city, was Best Medicine. It hasn’t been published yet, but I will do it one day. My problem with my City books is that I’m not sure which to publish first. Best Medicine started it all, introducing some pivotal characters, but some of the books are more fun. They can stand alone, but do share characters, so you see my quandary.
My newest book, So Much It Hurts, is set in my City. It stands on its own, but also fits into the fabric woven in the City. I don’t know if Pia, Flynn and Yancy will get into other City books, but it’s entirely possible. I never say never with my writing, because I get blindsided, more often than not.
I love my imaginary city, somewhere up north. One day, I may work on a map, but I prefer keeping her in my imagination, telling her tales; sharing her joys and pains. I’ll keep writing her stories, sharing moments from the lives she nurtures and cares for. I hope that when I, eventually, get them published, readers will love her as much as I do.
© 2017 Dellani Oakes
Excerpt from So Much It Hurts
Flynn slung his around Pia’s shoulders and she hooked her thumb in his belt loop.
“We’re going to campus, Amita,” he called to her at the desk.
“Don’t get lost!”
“I promise. I have an unerring sense of direction.” He wandered to the left and right. “I know there’s a front door here somewhere.” It did his heart good that Pia giggled at his silly joke. “We can walk or we can drive. Which do you want to do?”
“How far is it?”
“About six blocks.” He examined the traffic. “At this time of day, after rush hour and before noon, we’d make good time. If you have an eight or one o’clock class, it’s better to walk or bike. I go early and come home late, so I usually leave around seven and get there on time. Coming home is better.”
“Gawd! I’m gonna have to get used to city traffic. Back home, it’s distance not cars you have to account for. And the occasional cow. Sometimes they get loose and wander. There was one who would hop the fence and lie in the middle of the road.”
“No kidding! She wouldn’t move, no matter how much you honked, and the bar pits on the side are deep there, with a narrow shoulder.”
“The ditches on the side of the road. You have to learn to speak Nebraskan.” She added a distinctly nasal twang to her voice. “They borrow–bar–to build up the road.”
“Bar pits. Hmmm.” Flynn nodded. “Why don’t we walk this time and I can show you some sights along the way?”
“Sounds good. I’m up for anything.”
“Got good walking shoes?”
“I wore my comfy boots.” She showed him her soft-soled boots.
“Perfect. Okay. Do you know the address here?”
“Yes. I got that much under control. And the bus stop is that way.” She pointed to their right.
“Correct. Campus is the opposite direction. If you take the bus, take the number seven to Trinity.”
“Seven to Trinity.” She whipped out her phone and left a note to herself. “Any changes?”
“No. It’s a straight shot. The Trinity stop comes in on the side of campus near the Fine Arts buildings, so it’s perfect for us. If Yancy takes the bus, he has to wait for the number ten, which lets off on Springfield. It’s on the opposite side. I think the left-brained business majors didn’t want to be anywhere near us right-brained freaks.”
“We are pretty freaky.”
“It took Yancy a while to get used to me. His family is so straight! I don’t think I’ve ever seen his old man crack a smile. And me, throwing out comic gems. Sad, really.”
“Speaking of comedy, across the street to your right is the Cheezers Comedy Club. They have stand up, but four nights a week, they do improv.”
“No, I love that! Is it expensive?”
“Surprisingly affordable. I’ve got some buddies who work there. I’ve used a few of the cast members as models. There’s one guy, taller than me. He’s a freak of nature. I think he’s six foot eight.”
“He ate his Wheaties for breakfast.”
“By the box. There’s the Thai Garden.” He pointed directly to their left.
As they walked slowly along, he pointed out various points of interest: restaurants, a pawn shop, music store, art supply, grocery store and movie theatre.
“You weren’t kidding about how close it all is. I’ll have to explore Making Music soon. I can’t go long without a fix.”
“We can go in now, if you want.” He turned to face the store.
The front window was filled with shiny saxophones, sparkling flutes, and tantalizing objects Flynn couldn’t name. It caught his artist’s eye, drawing him in.
“Today’s goal is campus.”
© 2017 Dellani Oakes