Tuesday, November 20, 2012

If you’re a fiction writer, you know the conundrum: Do I make up a location to set my story, and run the risk that readers won’t connect with it? Or, do I use a real-life place and hope that no one tells me I have the streets running the wrong direction?

I appreciate the fact that, in fiction, we have a little leeway. But you can’t go crazy. Just as science fiction writers must stay true to the science fact behind their tales, so must the contemporary fiction writer do what she can to get the basics right.

My latest novel, A Wild Goose Chase Christmas, is set in Monrovia, California. Why Monrovia? Initially, it was for the sake of expediency. I had a very short deadline with AWGCC, and I didn’t have time to create a town from scratch. For years, I lived in and around Monrovia, so I’m very familiar with it. As it turned out, Monrovia was the perfect place to set my story. The more I wrote, the more it all fell into place, and the happier I got. Even though I was able to use a lot of real life local color – Izzy’s craftsman style home, the Old Towne Street Fair, the YMCA – there were some things I needed to make up. 

The key to manipulating a real location to meet your needs lies in remaining true to its feeling and form. For example, Max Logan, my hunky museum curator, needed a museum to curate. Now, there are museums in Monrovia, but not wanting to step on any cultural toes, I decided to create one of my own. So I let Max work at the California Pioneer Museum in nearby Pasadena. It’s another real town, known for its cultural diversity and home of the Norton Simon Museum. My made up museum fit right in there.

You can set your story in Bonner Springs, Kansas and get all the small details right, but if your hero owns a surf shop, then you lose your credibility. It doesn’t matter if he absolutely, positively must deal in board wax and wetsuits. If there’s no ocean nearby, don’t do it. This is something historical fiction writers deal with all the time. What do you do if you need a railroad station in your story, but the route didn’t extend that far west until three years later? You can change the date of your story. You can change the location. You can scrap it and start from scratch. Or you can write it the way you want, assuring yourself that it’s okay, because it’s fiction.

Think long and hard before you fall back on the “it’s fiction” defense. While it’s true that some readers won’t notice, the ones who do may think twice the next time they pick up one of your books. 

It’s an awful lot of fun weaving fact into fiction. Stretch yourself, work with the history and the reality of your story’s setting. If you do it right, no one will even stop to wonder what’s real and what’s not.

Upon her grandmother's death, Izzy Fontaine finds herself in possession of a Wild Goose Chase quilt that supposedly leads to a great treasure. Of course, once the rest of the family finds out about it, they're determined to have a go at the treasure themselves. And, if that weren't enough, local museum curator Max Logan claims that Grandma Isabella promised the quilt to him. What is it about this quilt that makes everyone want it? Is Izzy on a wild goose chase of her own, or a journey that will lead her to the treasure Gran intended?

Jennifer AlLee believes the most important thing a woman can do is find her identity in God – a theme that carries throughout her novels. These include The Love of His Brother (Five Star, 11/07), The Pastor’s Wife (Abingdon Press, 2/10), The Mother Road (Abingdon Press, 4/12) and A Wild Goose Chase Christmas (Abingdon Press, 11/12). She's a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, Christian Authors Network, and the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. Visit Jennifer's website at www.jenniferallee.com


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