January 17, 2013

location, location, location

Imagine Sex and the City without the city. For the book, TV series and movie franchise, New York City is more than a setting for the story, it is a main character -- the fifth girl in the group of best friends.

When I consider some of my favorite reads of the past year, I'm struck by how the location contributes to the storytelling.

In Tracie Banister's In Need of Therapy, the main character lives and plays in Miami. Pilar's lunch dates with Ford would hardly be the same if they were not sharing Cuban sandwiches on a beach. That element is seemingly minor, but adds extra spice and sizzle to the sexual tension that already exists between the two characters as friendship turns to something more.

At the same time, the hot locale also makes it possible for the other men in Pilar's life to exist. It's a place where surfer boy Mitch can catch waves and Victor live as a telenovella villain.

(Read my review of INOT here.)

As a travel reporter, it would be impossible for location not to matter for the main character in Lauren Clark's Dancing Naked in Dixie. Julia Sullivan's life changes the moment she visits the small Alabama town where much of the story is set.

Rather than involving the cosmoplitan nature of a city like Seattle or the steam of Miami, Julia comes to fall in love with her life in Eufaula and the people and places there. It's why she works so hard to help save it. In doing this, the character sees more character development than she would have if she jaunted off to Rome or Rio like she previously did. The change in scenery gave her a change in life, which gave us readers a story.

(Read my review of DNID here.)

Location sets the tone in E L James Fifty Shades trilogy. Predominantly located in Seattle, Ana and Christian's relationship develops as he shares a new, more exciting view of the city -- and, ahem, sex -- with Ms. Steele.

Though they may jaunt off to other spots during the series, so much of their story intertwines with the city. From Christian's millionaire playboy penthouse with an impressive view of the city to his boat on Puget Sound, the reader can see his opulent lifestyle, because of the luxury each illustrates. Heck, even their ability to catch a helicopter to Portland, or take a honeymoon to Europe shows his wealth. At the same time, through Ana's eyes we see her discomfort with her change in lifestyle, which is a major conflict of the series.

(Read my reviews here, here and here.)

In any of these books, you lose crucial elements of the story by moving it. At the same time, there was not so much attention paid describing the scenes that it slowed down or took away from the story. Whether intentional or not, the locations often steal the show, and in the best possible way.

I try to keep this in mind as I work on my own books. When I travel, I make a point to take lots of photos of the places I go. From big cities to small towns and farmland, I see each of these spots as a possible future location for a story. In the three years I spent traveling about 50 percent of the time for work, I racked up a lot of destinations and the flavor needed to give my stories more character.

Some of the sights that helped me create the setting for my published-in-2013 novel.

In the book I will release (hopefully this year), the story is set on the Gulf Coast, predominantly in Houston and its surrounding communities. My character needs that area for her story to be told. It gives her a career  unique to the area. It gives her good old Southern boys to complicate her life. And as a Midwesterner, the new location gives her the discomfort of being a fish out of water.

Be sure to check out the other Girly Book Blog Hop posts (featured in the Linky below) and enter to win great prizes, such as books, gift cards and more. In addition, I'll be giving away a copy of Carol Tibaldi's Willow Pond.

Receive Change the Word's latest updates in your Inbox. Subscribe by entering your information under "Follow by email" in the sidebar. Follow me on Twitter @lmchap or "Like" Change the Word on Facebook.


  1. Laura, I'm so honored that you included IN NEED OF THERAPY's location in your post! I thought of Miami as a character in that book and I'm so glad to know that readers felt the same. It's always fun when you feel like you took a vacation after finishing a book set in a great locale.

    And I *adored* the small-town, southern eccentricities of the location in DANCING NAKED IN DIXIE. A great book brought vividly to life by the author's excellent way of describing Eufala. She made me want to go on a historic homes tour!

    I can't wait to read your upcoming novel! I was born in Houston and spent the first 9 years of my life in Texas, so it'll be fun for me to revisit that area in your book.

  2. Great post, Laura! I've been dying to read both IN NEED OF THERAPY and DANCING NAKED IN DIXIE so thank you for taking me through their settings. Congrats on your upcoming novel!

  3. Samantha, you'll love both books! Laura, I love how you focused on location in telling stories. It's so true readers take in so much from descriptive surroundings. XOXO

  4. I love fish-out-of-water stories. They make for some great conflicts at all levels. Thanks for sharing your novel, Laura. :-)

  5. I've heard great things about DANCING NAKED IN DIXIE...fun post!


  6. I've heard great things about DANCING NAKED IN DIXIE...fun post!


  7. Looking forward to reading your book when it comes out, Laura! Nice post - just stopping by to say "hi" - no need to enter me in the contest since I'm a fellow "hopper" :)

  8. I'm so excited for you, Laura! Can't wait to read your book, especially now that I know it's about a Midwestern fish out of water. I'm a Midwestern girl at heart. :-) And of course I'm even more eager now to dive into In Need of Therapy and Dancing Naked. There really isn't enough time in the day! Thanks so much for participating in the hop!!

  9. Noticed in your Twitter profile that you'e also a quilt whisperer. Can you tell mine to get out of the sew pile and finish themselves? I keep yelling at them. Maybe I need to whisper.

    Love your blog, your post, and this Girly Book Blog Hop. Great fun!

    julievalerie1@gmail.com @JBValerie "Chick Lit Chit Chat" new blog at julievalerie.com

    1. Ha! Thanks, Julie. Unfortunately, I don't know much about getting quilts made, but I do handle communications for a quilt museum.

  10. Dancing Naked In Dixie sounds wonderful! This blog hop has been a blast

  11. Traveling for work sounds like a dream job for me! I love seeing the world and exploring new places. I hadn't even though about 50 Shades location until I saw it and my mind immediately went to Washington so I guess it did play a role in my mind without being overtly obvious!

    Thanks for sharing and good luck on your book,

  12. Thanks for the amazing giveaway!
    elizabeth @ bookattict . com

    Facebook: Elizabeth Kotkiewicz Hyatt