Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Creating the Fictitious Town

Kim Watters here. I love Dynamite Creek, Arizona. Too bad it doesn’t really exist outside of my books. But if it did exist, it would be a really cool town. Why? Because Dynamite Creek springs from that creative space in my brain and anything I want to happen there—well just happens. While Dynamite Creek is based on the city of Prescott, Arizona and located close to Flagstaff, some of the buildings, shops, events, and people don’t exist. That’s the beauty of making up your own town. Need a candle shop on the square like in my book Home Sweet Home? Then plop one smack dab in the center of one of your blocks. Need a hobby shop like in my latest release A Season of Love? Put one in there, too. Need various festivals at certain times of the year for a fun thing for your hero and heroine to do? Go ahead and have as many as you want. Opportunities are endless and I love the freedom of all the choices I can make without the constraints of using a real town. 

So, how do you create a fictitious town? 

First identify what type of town you want. Big? Medium? Small? Keep in mind that your town is going to be another character in your book, so choose wisely. This is especially important if you write more than one book in this town. 

Then choose your name. Make sure your name matches the mood of your book. Since I write contemporary Christian fiction, I would not want to choose a name that could convey a mystery, suspense or horror. I chose Dynamite Creek for a few reasons. One Arizona has a lot of mines and I wanted to capture that feel. I also live relatively close to Dynamite Road in Phoenix, which I think is an interesting choice for a name. And lastly, my general practitioner’s office is called Dynamite Creek Medical Center. I always thought would be a cool name for a small town, so when I was trying to decide on a new book for Love Inspired, I actually built the story around the name. 

Next create a history for your town. Go crazy. Be creative. Every town has a history but think about how much fun it is to create your own. Who founded it? Why was it founded? What are some of the local characters that made the town what it is today? Even if these things don’t come out in your finished novel, it’s always good to have them in the back of your mind while you’re writing. Plus you never know when you might need that information. 

Add details. What type of buildings are there? Businesses? People? Schools? Streets? Plants and trees? Weather? The list could go on and on. It’s your town add or subtract things as needed. If something’s not working, take it out. If you need a certain business, add it in. For A Season of Love, I needed a Christmas Shop on one of the main streets in town. Viola. I plopped it down across from the Courthouse in the square. 

And lastly, add flavor. What’s unique or different about this town? Is there something the town is known for? Did something happen that makes it notable? 

As for the process, think layering. You don’t have to have everything all at once. Start with the basis and then layer more information on to flesh it out. Real towns weren’t built in a day so don’t expect your fictitious one to be either. I’m currently working on my third book based in Dynamite Creek, and I continue to discover new and unique things to add to my town on an almost daily basis.
Another important thing is to be organized, especially if you are going to keep writing stories in this town. Draw maps. Create charts of businesses, characters, festivals and etc. I use excel spreadsheets to keep everything straight. I use reoccurring characters and businesses from one book to another, so keeping them straight is a must, plus, it creates less of a brain drain when I want to add another character into my current work in process. Why not add someone I’ve used before? I already know a little bit about them. 

One of the drawbacks to creating your own town is you can’t visit it or google it to see what it’s like. So I found it is easier to have a real town in mind to base it on, but then let my creativity take over. Since Dynamite Creek is based on Prescott, I usually make an annual trip up north to get the flavor of the town again and also check for any changes that might have happened. Plus I really like Prescott, so doing that type of research isn’t really a chore but a fun weekend away from the heat of the Valley in the summertime.

So for you writers out there, do you prefer using real towns or making them up? 

For you readers out there, what is your preference? 
Until next time,


Lara Lacombe said...

Great post! I've never tried to make my own town before--my books are set in Washington, D.C., where I lived for several years. I always love reading about fictitious towns, especially those slightly quirky small towns like Dynamite Creek! :)

Mary Tate Engels said...

Great post to make us think about creating a place. As a writer, I like to make a town up, so I can incorporate the quirky history & characters from a bunch of real towns. But I think writers like to walk the real streets.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by Lara. I took my kids to DC over the summer for an educational experience. Awesome place, but too many people. LOL.

Thanks Mary. I'm with you about creating small towns but I base them on real ones so I can visit and absorb the atmosphere.