Choosing a location for your novel

This blog post will be the first one in which I will examine what criterions to focus on when choosing a location for your novel.

At the uttermost macro level lays the decision whether your story will take place in the real world or a fictional world. High fantasy books take place in a made up world. The author might choose to give names to various invented countries or even make up a new realm. In contrast to this paranormal romance books are often set at least partly in a real city/country (that usually has been slightly altered), with potential in between spurs where the protagonists travel to a different realm, such as the underworld. Finally, an Urban Fantasy novel by definition should always take place in a modern urbanized area. Of course the real cities that are used as locations are often modified to reflect a certain atmosphere/setting for the novel.

If your genre allows for the creation of a whole new world you are relieved of many limitations and fact checking but at the same time this means that you will have to dedicate more time to inventing this other world in your head and figuring out a way of how to explain its singularities in your novel without creating lengthy passages of realm descriptions that lack action and therefore will fatigue your reader.

On the other hand if you choose to set your story in a real metropolis, you might find yourself double and cross checking the web for references on the areas’ vibe, demographics and of course neighborhoods and amenities. Luckily, Google Maps enables the modern day writer to do this in a quick and efficient manner.

Still, it is very different to write about a city that you have only ever seen photos of versus a city you’ve actually been to. If at all possible, I would recommend choosing a location that you’ve actually been to before, in order to avoid the use of embarrassing and outdated stereotypes of its landscape and culture.

Once you’ve elected the setting of your novel the next step is to draw a map of the city. Again if your metropolis actually exists you can use Google Maps and print out a screen shot. If not you can create your own map of the location and highlight all the points of interest.

At the very bare minimum you will need to decide where your main protagonists and secondary characters live as well as your antagonist. Defining the location of these dwellings will particularly come in handy in mystery novels that include who-had-done it elements, as well as chasing sequences in thrillers, or just-missed-each-other scenes in romance books.

In addition to that the location of the apartment or house of your character will shape their daily habits including their commute, where they eat, whether and how often they go out and where they shop.

The neighborhood also makes an immediate claim regarding the social standing and life phase of your character. For example it would make sense for a large family to live in the suburbs, while characters that had just finished college would probably share an apartment with friends in the downtown area.

Finally, do consider the occupation of your character’s before finalizing your setting. Works of fiction need to sound plausible. It would be hard to imagine a young twenty-something who is an aspiring actress living in the middle of nowhere. However, a middle-aged woman, who used to be a model and is now a mother living in a suburb and trying to get by with the odd modeling jobs at state fair, could make for quite a great plot line.


To sum up, when considering what location to set your novel in consider your genre and story line. Beyond choosing a city or area, you will then need to create a basic map to understand where the main characters live in relation to each other. Be aware of how the location of housing influences the life of your protagonists in the short and long-term run.

The next post will focus on the finer aspects of location, such as how to choose a hangout for important scenes and the architectural elements/interior of buildings in your novel.

3 Comments on “Choosing a location for your novel

  1. Pingback: Questions to ask before writing a novel | Margarita

  2. Pingback: Fine tuning the settings of your novel – questions to ask yourself | Margarita

  3. Pingback: Writer’s bible | Margarita

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