Friday, November 20, 2015

Creating Reality in a Fictional Setting

Use available resources to create an imaginary place as real any you can actually find.
One of the fun elements of fiction writing is creating a setting and bringing it to life. When creating a setting for your story, you have three choices:
  1. Use a real place.
  2. Create a fictional place.
  3. Create a fictional place based on a real place.
I wanted to set my story, The Secret of Eucalyptus Cove, in a place I know well enough to satisfy the Writer’s Digest list of setting elements.
I knew I wanted Eucalyptus Cove to be a small, somewhat isolated ranch on the San Mateo County coast in California, near Half Moon Bay. It’s not far from where I grew up, and is the section of coast where I spent countless hours. I know it physically, sensorily, and culturally.
Because I could not find a place exactly like I needed for my story, I created a composite of several places. Between my memory, my imagination, and the magic of Google, I was able to create a setting as real to me as any actual place.
There are several farms and ranches in the area, and I knew how I wanted Eucalyptus Cove to look.
I wanted my ranch to be above a small, secluded beach. The part of the coast that I selected has countless little coves, many of them almost inaccessible at the bottom of cliffs. I combined my own memories of the coast with the pictures below to create exactly what I needed.
Once I had my location, I needed a farmhouse. For this, I drew on the Patterson house just across the city limits from my home town. It’s not right on the coast, but it’s not that far. It’s easy enough to move a house in fiction.
I took the house, transported it to my fictional ranch above the cove, and modified it a bit based on other homes of the type and in the area, such as the Meek mansion, whose tower became an important part of my farm house.
Like ranches everywhere, Eucalyptus Cove needed a compound of sheds, barns, and other out buildings. Something like the one on the left below, which also happens to have a beach and eucalyptus trees, combined with the typical coastal ranch on the right:
I also needed the ranch to have some history, so I placed an older house on the ranch, an adobe home from the days when it was a Mexican rancho. I based the adobe on several in the San Francisco Bay Area and surroundings.
Finally, of course, Eucalyptus Cove needed a eucalyptus grove. There are groves all along the coast. The one I drew from was the one on the edge of my home town. As kids, we referred to this grove as Hobo Jungle, a place of many legends and secrets. And a place that, sadly, is now only a fragment of what it once was. Fortunately, there are enough similar groves that I could find pictures to trigger my sensory memories.
I know from experience what a Eucalyptus grove smells like and how the peeled bark, seed pods, and other plant litter looks and feels under foot.
I’ve used Hobo Jungle and the Patterson house before, in a poem I wrote many years ago. Here’s part of it:
Us kids passed that grove on Jarvis
eucalyptus stretched to Union City
trunks striped with peeling bark
the odor of Dad’s cough drops
Deer, fox, rabbit, coyote
Pat heard there were bears
they like eucalyptus he said
A farmhouse, deserted, rotting
a haunted hotel for jungle hobos
Juan said. We laughed, stayed away
With all the pieces assembled in my mind and in my files, it was time to imagine how my characters would interact with the place I created.
(Note: None of the pictures in this post are mine. I collected them too long ago and didn’t expect to use them in a blog, so I didn’t keep track of my sources. Thanks to the original photographers for helping enhance my imagination.)

1 comment:

Bruce Luck said...

Nice post. I've used Google for images to spark my thinking on settings, but not to this extent.