For most writers, it’s not, “Write what you know,” but rather, “Write what you want to know.” I suspect few go into a project knowing everything, but by the time we type The End, the majority of us have done the required research and then some.
The focus of that research is often setting. I personally try very hard to make setting a character in my stories. I use real locations and target what’s unique, hoping to bring these sites alive for the reader.
Because my settings are near and dear, it was with a heavy heart I tasked myself with editing out the very real university in my first novel and replacing it with a school born of imagination. Why would I do such a thing? To avoid connecting the university, even tangentially, with the crime I write about in my book. It took almost two solid weeks to make the edits—twice as long as it took to edit the novel I currently have under contract.
The point of this post is to raise awareness of the dangers of linking a tragic or violent fictional incident to a real-life setting—even if the connection is indirect, as it was in my novel. Apart from the editing required, which was onerous on a manuscript so clean it squeaked, I no longer have the privilege of sharing the setting I built my novel around, a place I know and love. This has weakened my story, made it less convincing, less rich and textured. Worst of all, it feels as though I’ve killed off a beloved and essential character.
Don’t let this happen to you.
Have you ever written about a real-life setting?
Are you concerned it could come back to haunt you?
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All gave some.
Some Gave all.
Remember and give thanks.