Writing Tip — Locations Must Be Put to Work

isolation-2420514_1280For  an interesting opinion on world-building, check out this post “Why World Building Comes First” on Gabrielle Massman’s site “Write for the King”.

Her post emphasizes how world-building in speculative fiction affects character development. As I stated in my comment, I believe all authors engage in some kind of world-building to draw readers into a setting they are not familiar with.

This reminded me of a rule, attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, which I found in Halliwell’s Harvest“the location must be put to work”.

Hitchcock is remembered for his wonderful use of locations to enhance his plots. A man is dropped off by a lonely cornfield and is attacked by someone flying a crop-dusting plane in North By Northwest. Not a truck or car or motorcycle. Since the hero is in a cornfield, Hitchcock uses a plane. Because Foreign Correspondent has a scene in Holland, Hitchcock has to work in a windmill in which the hero gets his sleeve, almost his arm, crushed in the grinding gears of the mill.

I am reading A Fool and His Monet by Sandra Orchard. The main character is an FBI agent who specializes in art theft and works out of St. Louis. The author uses a lot of place names to ground her story in St. Louis. I don’t know the city, but I have a cousin who lives there, and I’m sure if I check, those names will be true.

Whatever you location, make it work for your story. If you pick a city that’s been used a lot, like New York or London, try to find some quality that other writers might not have taken advantage of. Jeff Rice wrote the book for the TV movie The Night Stalker about a vampire prowling through Las Vegas. Mr. Rice had lived in Las Vegas and said a significant part of the population lived and worked at night. A vampire would go unnoticed.

If your story is not coming together as you like, maybe it’s the location. Try several different ones and see if  a change gets the story back on track.

How do you make your location work for you?


Writing Tip — Lesson #1 from The Deer on a Bicycle

teaching-311348_1280I could write for three months on what I have learned from The Deer on a Bicycle by Patrick F. McManus. Instead, I will just discuss a couple things I have found the most interesting.

“Why do you give your characters and places such odd names?”

Mr. McManus explains that naming his characters Retch or Rancid or the Troll immediately tells the reader something about those characters. He adds, “Because of the brevity required for short humor, one must continually look for way to save words. Comically descriptive names for characters and places are one of mine.”

Descriptive nicknames can work in longer fiction, too. In the mystery A Fool and His Monet by Sandra Orchard, FBI agent Serena Jones catches two men peddling stolen art. Since she doesn’t know their names, she calls them “Baldy” and “Sidekick”.  The main character in Marissa Shrock’s The First Principle, a dystopian Christian fiction YA novel, overhears a conversation between two women who are strangers to her. Based on their appearances, she calls them “Puffy” and “Pudgy”.

In both examples, the main characters nickname minor ones because they don’t know their names. The nicknames tell readers something about those minor characters and it’s more concise for the author to write “Baldy” rather than “the bald man” or Puffy rather than “the woman with the puffy face.”

735600I have a special affection for nicknames because I use them for family members. In my novel, I have character who nicknames almost everyone. He calls his nephew who is a drummer “Sticks” and another nephew who wears a cowboy hat “Cowboy”.

Nicknames not only tell you something about the character with the name, but also about the person who invented it. If a teen calls his math teacher “the Fuhrer”, that reveals qualities about the teacher and the teen.

I think having a character hand out nicknames and giving them to major characters make all your characters seem more real. Many of us have nicknames, sometimes tied to our family relationships, hobbies, jobs, or physical characteristics, and those nicknames highlight different aspects of our life.  They can do the same for your characters.

Keep nicknames in mind for humor, brevity, description, or character development.



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