Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Writing on Wednesday #4 - Big City Settings

I'm working on my very first novel (Yay!), an Urban Fantasy set in New Orleans, and I'm totally loving the writing experience, but I'm sort of stuck. I was wondering if any other writers out there have had the same type of difficulties with their novels as I am having with mine.  I had first planned on a trilogy, but after I finished outlining the entire story, it looks like it will be a 4 to 5 book series - okay, no problem there. I jotted down some ideas about my protagonist and other major characters, got down the intro and first thousand words with ease, then of course I started having problems. So, I stepped away from the computer and developing my characters on paper - no problems there. But when I started thinking about the setting of individual scenes, I started panicking. 

Maybe I'm over-thinking, maybe the perfectionist in me is standing in my way, but I'm having an issue with deciding on where all these amazing, action packed, and romantic scenes are going to take place. I chose to set my first series in New Orleans because I absolutely love the city, and more importantly, because although this story is an urban fantasy, I want it to be as real as possible and New Orleans culture is what I know. There are so many amazing places within this huge city, so how do I decide where to draw the line? I obviously can't have the characters visit every single bar, restaurant, and street corner, but how do I choose? Anyone who has spent a few days in the city can surely understand the problem I am having here, and for those of you who have not been to the city, let me explain.

New Orleans is broken down into several sections, and within each section there are smaller sections, and those smaller sections are broken down even further, and so on. Each part of the city is unique and full of amazing sights, and many of these places are very dear to my hear, but I just can't include all of them in my story. What's a girl to do? Do I choose my most favorite places? Or do I chose locations with names that everyone knows? Most non-natives are familiar with the French Quarter, so should most of the action take place there? Or should I go out on a limb and take the action to the S. Carrollton area, or the Lakefront, or the CBD, or New Orleans East? Ahhhhhhh, so many places to choose from. 

Any advice? 


Ellen said...


You're discovering your process! There's no single answer to your questions, but I will give you some thoughts based on my experience.

I rave about NaNoWriMo frequently. It's been a great teacher for me. Every November we write 50k in a single month, or 1700 words or more a day (approx), every day. It's an amazing way to write a first draft BUT you must turn off the inner editor and simply write.

That's what you're needing to do right now. Warning, though: be prepared for the story to lead off in directions you didn't anticipate.

But that's the great thing about editing a first draft--you can insert those scenes you missed into places that need to be fleshed out. 50k is not enough and you'll easily double that as you revise.

As far as location, in my opinion you should minimally use the French Quarter. Bring us into the unknown parts of New Orleans. Introduce us to NO through characters native to the city. Make us, your readers, feel like we know it and want to know it better. However, for the time being, worry less about your locations and more about getting the story down. You'll have a better idea where you want things to happen, if there should be a central bar or section of the city, after you've written the draft.

Those are my thoughts. I hope something makes sense. FYI, I'll be blogging about how I dealt with many of these question. So keep an eye out.


Mandy Lum said...

Thanks Ellen! This makes a lot of sense. I just needed to hear some words of wisdom from a fellow writer. Thank you for taking the time to help me out.

I love the French Quarter, but instead of using that area for the action scenes, my protagonist will have small house/art studio near the French Market and Fabourg Marigny, which are parts of the Quarter rich in culture than many tourists don't have enough time to visit. I'm definitely going to use other areas of the city for the action scenes, and I really feel that my readers will have a much greater appreciation for this amazing city if I go in that direction, as you suggested.

I'm going camping with my family this weekend and it is going to be a great time for writing, no overthinking, but just writing what I'm feeling at the moment.

Thanks again!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Ellen Lynn said...

I replied to your comment on my blog, but I wanted to make certain you saw it. (I'm not great about checking on blogs where I've commented so I don't want to assume others do, either!)

So this is what I wrote:
You're energy, your enthusiasm is a fantastic portent for your novel. I think it's going to be great. I really do.

I hope you'll dialogue with me whenever you want. I'd love to see this story unfold and you, as a writer, find your process. Feel free to email me at zerilian at mac dot com.


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