So you can read my books

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Just how do you make the locale a character in your novel?

I visited a new blogger from New Zealand the other night.

She wanted to set her vampire novel in the United States. But she has never visited these faraway shores.

She asked her American friends for help. She needed to know how to write of a locale that she had never visited ...

its customs, its natives, its unique way of looking at life.

I wrote her name and her blog's name on a scrap of paper. I think that Asgardian squirrel, Ratatoskr, ate it while reading one of my books.

But I will try to help her ...

and all my cyber-friends at the same time.

Just take what seems reasonable to you and fling the rest to the cyber-winds:

Each city speaks in its own voice. Your city. My city.

You know streets that whisper to stay away at night.

You know what scandal has stained some avenue beyond repair.

You know what person's name is spoken in hushed tones long after he or she has died and been buried in your city.

Each city has its own personality. Like a human's, it changes with trauma, years of abuse, and moments of historic impact.

Lifting the veil from the distinctive features of the setting of your novel makes your whole narrative come alive for your reader.

But how do you do that verbal sleight of hand?


Google Earth is a great help.

Tapping your own knowledge on what it means to be human in an inhumane world.

Using YouTube to catch the accents, manner of dress, and way of holding the body that each nation has.

Keep the following in your focus :


Some obvious to tourists. Some that you have to ferret out by research in the library, on the internet, or by listening to a local visitor to your setting.


How does your hero/heroine feel about those details? How have they affected the protagonist and those important to him or her?

Weave those details and emotions into a rich tapestry of irony and longing.

What shadowed corner of your setting is especially dangerous or emotion-laden to your central characters? Why?

Paint a passage where that tapestry flutters in the shadows, not quite completely seen but more evocative because of that.


What era is it in your setting? Has your protagonist lived through more than one era of time in it?

How has the passing seasons shaped his/her mind, opinions, and outlook for the present? For the future? How does your protagonist view his and the setting's past?


I worked on the streets of New Orleans for a time so the images, smells, and despair were fresh in my mind.

Which was a help and a hindrance. What one written detail brought into focus for me would not be in the memories of most of my readers.

I had to enter the blank slate of the reader's mind. Evoke in him/her an archetypal detail of touch, taste, and sight that would paint a landscape of the mind.

Every reading experience is a collaboration between reader and author in that way.

No two readers will take away the same mental images from the same author's words because each reader has his own distinct treasure-trove of memories and beliefs.

Still every author must bring his readers into the "now" of the novel's locale.

Not just by sight but by smell and by touch -- and even more important by the emotions evoked by each of those details.

Go from the universal to the specific with words. Meld detail with the characters' emotions.

In FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE I used actual quotes of politicians at the time of Katrina to ground the reader in the reality of the hurricane's aftermath,

slowly melding the fantasy aspects so that the fantastic became more acceptable.

And at the same time, I used specific sensory details, blending them in with the main character's emotions to give the locale a personality of its own.

I like to think I succeeded. Only the readers can tell me if I did. I hope this has been helpful in some small measure.
In honor of D. G. Hudson, here is a little taste of Paris:


  1. Madeleine puts me in such a good mood, I thank you! As a coincidence, that's the name of one of my characters in the Paris novel, too.

    When I first saw the title, I thought that blogger needed to do due diligence - research. So I was glad to see you gently told her that. The sign of a good teacher.

    There's no easy way to write about a place without research and Google, outside of visiting. Great advice, Roland!

  2. D.G.:
    I also love Madeleine which is why I put her in CREOLE KNIGHTS.

    Thankfully, research is fun for me. I am a teacher in my heart -- and a counselor as well. And a talespinner. Gee, my head is sore from wearing too many hats!

    Always great to see you in my cyber-home. :-)

  3. You would think that Ratatoskr would get enough to eat on the World Tree.
    I can't imagine writing about place I've never been. In this day and age it must be easier than in the past.

  4. Good suggestions. YouTube is excellent for many things.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  5. David:
    Greedy is as greedy does! And that is our scamp, Ratatoskr!

    Yes, I find YouTube great for a lot of things!! :-)

  6. And sometimes, each block speaks a different language, or dialect. I think, when the truth of what your characters are saying is universal, the language is less (though not un)important.

  7. Google map is great, short of visiting the city and experiencing it yourself, which isn't always practical. Have never considered YT though. Great idea!

  8. Hi Roland .. essential advice - but each country, each town, each area has a different voice, tone, influence, history et al .. as Elephant's Child mentions ...

    Writing about one's homeland is challenging enough, while a place I've lived in has its boundaries ..

    Well done for your fruitful thoughts .. I hope she will find you ...

    Cheers Hilary