Monday, 17 September 2012

Fictional or realistic settings?

My second novel A Walk Before Sunrise was set between Brisbane and Byron Bay, but setting my book so firmly in what seemed like a perfect location didn't turn out to be the huge stroke of genius that I'd anticipated. By giving such a true and accurate portrayal of what some might argue is their own version of paradise, it seems I had limited the ability of the reader to relate in their own mind to the geographical setting of the book if they had never visited the area. Looking back, I asked myself if I had set out to write a story set in a specific location, or written a specific location into my story. When the answer became blurry, perhaps it was time to think of where the book fits in with my other writing plans.

Now I have already talked up the attractions of Byron Bay in another article, but the point I am about to make is this; my decision to take one of the more interesting characters from my book A Walk Before Sunrise and place him in another story, Last Wish of Summer, as some sort of precursor, worked so well that it now leaves a question in the readers' minds as to how Anton came to end up in Byron Bay. My answer to this question is to either a). write a third novel that fills the gap between Last Wish of Summer and A Walk Before Sunrise, b). re-write A Walk Before Sunrise and change the location of Byron Bay to a more generic seaside town that better aligns the two stories, or c). do nothing and let the reader accept that the same character simply pops up in another story, at another time and another place. Can you now see the dilemma that arises when you start mixing fictional and realistic settings as a writer? To be honest, all three seem like perfectly logical choices. But the real truth however is that in hindsight a writer needs to make this decision before he or she sits down to write their story.

The short version of this story is that I went on to do both option A and B. I wrote The Rag Doll Cafe, which is a sequel to Last Wish of Summer, and I re-wrote A Walk Before Sunrise, only this time setting it in the fictional town of Lighthouse Bay. All three books are now available and selling well. All three books are stand alone novels in their own right. Yet together they form a circle of books that can be read in any order. The end result was brilliant, but I have to admit it was a messy process, one that could easily have been avoided if I had tackled the question of fictional or realistic setting before I started writing.

You have to ask yourself if painstakingly mapping out the geographical features of a real location in your novel is worth it. While I captured the essence of Byron Bay, Australia perfectly in the original version of my novel A Walk Before Sunrise, so too does a travel brochure. What is it that you are you trying to achieve by stoically setting your book in a real location? If there is a reason for your character to be in New York, Paris or Sydney, fine. If not, some made up town is not going to crush the credence of your writing. While I have fond memories of my numerous visits to Byron Bay to look back on over the time of writing my novel, ultimately, setting a novel in a realistic setting counts for nothing when it comes to sales of the book. So in future I think I'll just concentrate on the storytelling, and let readers discover their own version of a seaside paradise. Wherever that may be.

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