Rocky Mountain High
To continue our discussion of settings this week, I have a question. Do you have to visit a place before you can set your story there?

I have an Intrigue coming out in '09 (and possibly two more as part of a series about three brothers) that is set in southern Colorado. The mountains, the ringed-in valleys, the wildflowers, the waterfalls. Right? I'm not quite sure because I've never been there.

Don't get me wrong, I did my research on the Internet. I looked up flora and fauna and temperatures and distances between certain cities. I researched the Indian tribes in southern Colorado, and looked up dude ranches and other activities. I'm pretty certain I didn't make any blunders (like having perfectly sane people lying out on the beach in their bathing suits in Carmel, CA - not done, too cold). But I'm wondering if I missed the essence of southern Colorado. You know, those little things that natives take for granted and visitors can discover on their own.

On the plus side, when you don't actually know a location intimately, you don't get bogged down in the details that only locals would find interesting. I set one of my first books (as yet unpublished) in L.A., a city I've been living in for many years and know very well. I couldn't wait to load the book with all the streets and places and quirks of L.A. Later I realized those details slowed down the pace of the book (another Intrigue where the pace must be fast).

I plan to visit southern Colorado in the near future. Hopefully, before I finish the two books in the CO series. In the meantime, I must rely on my Internet research, beautiful pictures like the ones here, and kind friends.

So what do you think? Do you need to visit your book's setting? Have you ever set a book in a particular location and then visited it later only to discover you were way off?

13 Responses
  1. Wendi Says:

    Interesting post, Mia! I set Cowboy Games in Wyoming and I've never been there. I did a lot of the same kind of research as you...geography, wildlife, plants, etc. I put tons of detail in the first draft and then ended up editing a lot of it out. If I made any major boo-boos, I haven't gotten called on them yet. :)

    Wendi Darlin

  2. This is a great question because really, how many places can we actually visit?

    I do a lot of internet research. And with my WIP, I actually picked up the phone and chatted with an assistant at a real estate office. That turned out to be an unexpected score as she was brilliant at description (which I scribbled down as fast as I could).

    My preference, of course, would be to travel anywhere my books were set, but that's just not practical. Dang it. *smile*

    Great post, Carol!

    --Chiron O'Keefe

  3. Lexi Says:

    Personally, I've written manuscripts both ways, but if I've been there, the manuscript is always richer.

  4. Carol, can't wait to read your next Intrigue. It sounds great! When I wrote my hometown series, I surprisingly didn't get bogged down with unneccessary detail. When I married, I moved twenty minutes away from the site of my character's bayside inn. After I wrote the first book, I took a drive down to the spot and realized that because I hadn't been there in so long, I'd forgotten what the air smelt like, the way the air feels deeper and richer, and the special feeling I get being in that place. I went home and added that extra layer of sensory detail that gave the setting more depth and hopefully made it more tangible for the reader.

    I know we can't go all the places our imaginations take us, especially with the way gas and airfare is rising. But the internet is an awesome, thorough tool. It sounds like you did an excellent job researching your Colorado story :)


    Amber Leigh Williams
    Steamy Romantic Adventure & Suspense
    FOX & HOUND, Simply Romance "Outstanding Read"

  5. Wonderful post and lovely pics!! To answer your question, no I don't have to have been in a setting to write about it but it definitely helps a lot! Otherwise indepth research is required and sometimes the feeling and scent of the setting remains elusive.

  6. Sandy Says:

    Great post, Carol. Yes, I think it helps to feel and smell a place, but if you can't try to talk to someone who hs been there.


  7. ShawnaMoore Says:

    Hi, Carol!

    I always enjoy using vacations and getaways for setting research purposes :) Actually, I believe visiting a locale gives an author an greater depth to the details. There's nothing like firsthand information, and I'm a visual person. And it's wonderful reliving those enjoyable vacations and long weekends as we write :) I've also set a couple stories in fictional towns near places I've later visited. Of course, this has prompted me to consider writing sequels for those stories in order that I can use some of those details :)

    Happy weekend wishes,


  8. Great post. I think that if you do the right research, you don't have to go. I set my current WIP in a small town in Texas, but have only ever been once. I am using my home town in Northern California as the 'look' but the temperature fits Texas to a T. I think that internet research (and asking many many many friends who have been all over Texas) that I have done a good job capturing the heat and the feel of a Texas morning, day and night.

  9. Tina Says:

    I think it can go both ways. In my last story I researched, not just a place, but a time. It began with P.T. Barnum marching 21 elephants across the Brooklyn Bridge to prove it was safe. In the end, I had to nix the whole prologue and I loved those elephants! I think I put in TOO much detail.

    OTOH, I overheard a few agents at my local group's yearly luncheon and one said "One of my pet peeves is when a writer writes about NYC and has clearly never been there." The other agents all nodded in agreement.

    The moral of this post? If you're going to write about a place you've never been, DON'T make it NYC :)

  10. Wendi, yes Wyoming, Colorado, Montana - those are all "hook" locations. I guess it's the idea of those rugged indivdualists!

    Chiron, great idea to chat with someone who lives there - real estate, chamber of commerce, tourist center.

    Lexi, I agree, even if you don't get all the details in your story, you somehow "feel" it more.

    Amber, my very next Intrigue (A Doctor-Nurse Encounter - Aug.) is set in San Francisco and a little Santa Cruz. Since I grew up in northern Calif., I know those places pretty well.

    Vonda, I love the pics too. Can't wait to go there!

    Sandy, Ah yes,the SMELL of a place is so important, isn't it?

    Shawna, I'm still trying to figure out if I can write off my Maui vacation this summer if I finish the book I started that's set there!

    Kirsten, great idea to use the set up of one small town for another, then fill in the details of setting.

    Tina, LOL, I'll remember that. I've been to NYC, but it was quite a while ago. Don't know how much that city changes. I think we're all a little protective of our own settings. I know when someone writes about Calif., I pay closer attention. Read a book recently that was set in Coronado in San Diego - it was perfect - so the author did her research and had been there - especially the detail about the Hotel Del.

  11. Sandy Says:

    Carol, it's another great blog, and I think whichever way you go can work.

  12. When I picture Redemption, WI from Welcome to Redemption, I picture the small town I grew up in in Northeast WI called Crivitz, only prettier. :)

    My other 4 ms were set in Colorado, but I spent 2 summers there working on a ranch/resort. My latest contracted is set in Texas, which I've never been to, but researched on the net like you did, for flora, fauna and types of birds, trees, ect. I sure hope I got it right.

    My current wip is back to Colorado because I love the Rockies as a backdrop. I'd live there if my family wasn't all in WI.

    Looking forward to the next Intrigue, Carol!!

  13. I've written about areas I've lived in, but still need to do research because I can't remember everything about the areas. But right now I'm working on one that is set in the Canadian Arctic, so yep, got to do a lot of research! Been in blizzards, but it's nothing like living in the Arctic!

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