WIP Wednesday: Location, Location, Location

One of the stories I am working on right now is set in a real place, namely, Portsea.

Portsea is a tiny little spot near the end of the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.

For those not familiar with the geography of Victoria, Melbourne is situated at the top of a bay, called Port Phillip Bay.  The Mornington Peninsula forms the east side of the bay and Portsea is right down the end, within sight of the tip of the western shore of the bay.

Portsea is within a couple of hours drive of Melbourne and I have had great fun going down there to do ‘research’.  The picture above is from one of these jaunts.  It is the Portsea Pub, which has been on this site since the 1920s and is a nice place for a beer and a burger and a think about one’s story.

I enjoyed going there so much, in fact, that I set a scene there; which just goes to show that providing beer and food is a good way to make friends with a writer…

The funny thing is, though, that I never intended to set my story here at all.  I was going to set it in Lorne, which is another little seaside town in Victoria (although in the opposite direction from Melbourne).  And the only reason I was going to set it there was because I was going to set a road accident on the extremely hairy (as in, hair-raising) road that snakes down the side of a hill into Lorne.

In the end, though, I decided to scratch the accident and when I did, Portsea suggested itself as an alternative with many things in its favour (and no, it wasn’t just about the beer). One of them was that I know the area better and can get to it more easily for purposes of soaking up details of landscape and atmosphere.

The story is now firmly and irretrievably set on the eastern side of the bay and has become more and more firmly rooted in its setting as it has developed.  So much so, that the setting has in some ways helped to shape the story, which I find fascinating.  It seems that all the agonising I did in the early stages over where to set it was not a waste of time, but necessary.

So my question for today is, how important is setting for you?  As a reader (and as a writer, if you are one) do you like to get a real sense of place when you read (or write) a book?  And do you prefer your settings real, or made up?  Enquiring minds want to know…

25 thoughts on “WIP Wednesday: Location, Location, Location

  1. I think a setting is absolutely vital, not only for the story’s atmosphere but for the plot’s relationship to the characters. Are they a product of that place (and wish to escape?) or do they come from outside? (and feel out of place?) This is true even in these days of greater mobility. It’s impossible to imagine Hardy’s novels removed from Hardy country, after all. I find novels where the setting is two-dimensional, like a stage set, very dissatisfying.
    Anyway, Imelda, all your fans are waiting with bated breath! What happens in that pub? Can you just get beer and burgers or does it have bedrooms? We need to know!

    • The pub does indeed have bedrooms, although I have not investigated them. Whether the characters do, you’ll have to wait and see.

      In this case almost all the characters are visitors to Portsea and you’re right, it does make a difference. The other stories I have written have been set on the main character’s home turf and the outsider has been the one dropping in and rocking the boat. It’s fun doing it the other way around!

  2. Seeing as most of the ooks I read are set in places I haven’t visited it’s good to have a description…also I get really excited when I read a book set in London where I know the streets etc very well. It would definitely throw me off the story if there were glaring errors.

    • I always get a thrill reading about places I know, too, and likewise get annoyed if the writer’s research is dodgy. I’ve been amazed at the amount of research I have needed to make the place ‘real’ in my head. Google Earth has been my friend on more than one occasion!

  3. Well, I’ve destroyed Brisbane, burnt down Ipswich and bombed Sydney. But that’s me. And these sorts of things happen in Zombie Apocalypses. I think setting is vital, it adds to the story. It’s almost a silent character sometimes. And if it’s somewhere you know then it gives your story a backbone of credibility as you write it in your wonderful head. Does that make sense?

    • Yes indeed it makes sense! I remember Carmel Bird, in ‘Dear Writer’ saying that settings and characters seem fake not because they are imagined but because they aren’t imagined ENOUGH. You have to be able to see the scene clearly in your head before you have a hope of portraying it vividly for others.

      Of course, I don’t have any Zombies in MY head, for which I am forever grateful… 😉

  4. Setting for me helps sometime, more for the environment and atmosphere of a place, rather than a specific place itself. Like I often use St Clair, in Dunedin as a setting although I do not name it, but rather use it for the feelings I have had in relation to the weather, the sun, the sea there. Yea, know what I mean?

  5. Place is definitely important – for me it adds a level of richness in understanding a character and the context in which they are found (culturally, as well as geographically). I like it when stories give you just enough specifics to give you the right ‘feel’ of a place – and leave the rest to my imagination. (Fine choice of locale, BTW 🙂 )

    • Thank you, Alarna! I love the Portsea pub, especially the old cosy bit at the front. If you squint your eyes you can almost see the moneyed Melbournites swishing through the door in their 20s sea-side gear, ready to slip into something daring in the way of a swimsuit and then slip into the bay. 😀

  6. *wistful* I’ve never been to Portsea. Shall we do a jaunt or a jape there at some point? It would be all bracing and wintery by the sea.

    • Yes, yes! Jaunts and jackanapes shall be forthcoming! You must not be deprived of the joys of a day by the sea (or a day on the bay, which is the Melbun equivalent.)

  7. I don’t mind whether a book’s location is real or made-up, as long as I can feel a part of it as I’m reading. One of my novels is set in a fictional town, but one that I based very closely on the seaside town I live in 🙂

    • I love books set in small towns. I’ve seen them done as charming places, lonely places and deeply scary places, but they’re always interesting – almost a character, as Kylie said. Will we get to read that one any time soon, Juliet? 😀

      • Yeah it’s interesting how small towns can either be cosy, isolated, or scary, depending on the type of story. In my case I go for the cosy feel! But being near the ocean, there’s also a sense of wide open space.
        I sure do hope so (re, reading my book)! It was my second novel, so hopefully if the first one is a success, this one will follow! I’m planning another story set in the same town, but with different characters. What about you? Any exciting news yet?? 😉

        • Oh, trust me Juliet, when there’s news you’ll hear about it! 😉

          It interesting about the sea influence. I remember going to tassie and looking out at the sea and thinking that I would write different stories if I lived there. It definitely plays a part in the writing, as well as the reading!

  8. I love a well described setting that clearly evokes the mood and creates the characters’ context. As Alarna said, there is a great deal of cultural association in our choice of location which adds much to our understanding of characters and events. I draw on a range of memory, research and imagination for mine. I want them to be realistic (in some cases–real) and easy for a reader to experience. ie. I want them to smell the roses, feel the petals, hear the wind and so on.

    • That’s the trick, isn’t it Sue? Making it real! Searching for the right set of words to sketch it well enough to that they can ‘hear the wind’ without creating a block of boredom that they skip is a challenge. But I love seeing a picture form on the page. I like to think of it like those amazing book art things, were people carve three-dimensional pictures out of the pages. I hope my description is like that!

  9. Real places are important is they reflect the reality of the location and if the descriptions are right to help the imagination of those people who have never been there. I saw a famous film once with famous actors, who were talking about my home town in Italy and nothing matched in their description. The film was good, but the producer invented the place.

  10. Pingback: Wednesday WIP: Historic Portsea on Parade | Wine, Women & Wordplay

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