As a writer, I find story ideas everywhere: a vulture perched on a streetlight, an unusual-sounding car horn, a person with an intriguing name. But nothing writes a story in my head faster than a PLACE. Nothing draws me into a story faster than a well-written setting.
Ready-made settings are all around us, and I've found some amazing ones in my travels over the years. I always have my cellphone camera at the ready, and have lots of settings saved up, just waiting for use.
My family loves to go for drives, and they are remarkably patient when I squeal, "Pull over! I need a picture of that!" To be honest, it's probably a good thing my lawful-good husband is always with me, or I'd end up doing a LOT of trespassing. Like this awesome abandoned house we stumbled across...
There's almost no chance I wouldn't have gone in there if I were alone, I confess. And I'd have all the incriminating evidence on my phone because I'd have taken pictures of everything. I'm not the only one, right? Would you have been able to resist?
While working on the Arcana books, I've used several strategies to make my settings more realistic and detailed. In Rise of the Moon, I set the story in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States, and by all accounts, one of the most haunted. I started out using Google Maps, and spent a pretty decent amount of time exploring the central part of the city via satellite photos. That's how I chose Lia's house and neighborhood, and also how I was able to identify local sites and businesses. Because I only live a few hours away, I was able to spend an hour or so driving through St. Augustine on my way back from a trip to Jacksonville with my buddy Aisha.
For Arcana Book 2: Rush to Judgement (currently in the editing phase), I set the book partly in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and partly in Atlanta. I've never been to Harrisonburg (though my friend Robert lives there...I was planning to visit and take my infamous cellphone camera, but COVID lockdown had other plans), and at the time I was writing, Google Maps didn't have much in the way of road-level satellite photos, so I worked from real estate listings, maps, and what satellite images I could get. In fact, real estate listings were crucial in Rush to Judgement, both for Sheffield Glen and the residence in Atlanta (thanks, Barbara, for helping me choose the right neighborhood!).Once I finish my first edit, I'm going to send it to my buddy in Harrisonburg so he can check it for accuracy.
Any writer will tell you that he/she/they do a ridiculous amount of research for two sentences of text. We're a weird breed, and we tend to get WAY into the weeds on the the tiniest details. Nowhere is this more true for me than for settings. Correct placement and description can make the reader PART of the story, not just an outside observer.
How about you? What places cry out for a tale to be told? Drop me a photo in the comments! Maybe I'll even drop you a few lines if your image sparks an idea!