When it comes to place, what is your choice, real or fictional? I’m talking mainstream fiction, not sci-fi or fantasy where the setting makes or breaks the novel. As a reader, I don’t have a preference, as long as the author grounds me in place. As an author, it depends on the needs of my plot. I’ve written one of each. Saving Ben is set in three actual locales—Charlottesville, Richmond, and Carter’s Creek, Virginia. While Her Sister’s Shoes takes place in Prospect, a make-believe coastal town forty miles south of Charleston, South Carolina. Time and again, fans of Saving Ben have expressed their appreciation for reading about the places they’ve visited. Or the UVA campus they once called their own. I believe my readers will enjoy Prospect. Early reviewers of Her Sister’s Shoes have referred to the cozy coastal town as charming.
I introduce my setting in the very first paragraph.
Lovie and Oscar Sweeney had been providing vacationers to the South Carolina coast with fresh-from-the-ocean seafood since opening their doors in May of 1959—and little had changed since then. Not the quality of the service or the layout of the store. The same brass ship’s clock still hung on the wall above the door, ticking away the decades. The customers didn’t mind the outdated decor as long as the knowledgeable staff served superior product with a friendly smile. The creaking floorboards and dusty shelves welcomed them back year after year, just as the pungent odor of the marsh at low tide greeted them upon arrival in the small inlet town of Prospect.
In my novel, two of the three Sweeney sisters, along with their mother Lovie, continue to operate Captain Sweeney’s Seafood. With moss-draped trees and ocean breezes and friendly folks with lazy Southern drawls, I based the town of Prospect on Murrells Inlet, a small inlet town north of Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, where I spent a great deal of time growing up. The inspiration for the seafood market came from the Yellow Umbrella, a predominately seafood market in Richmond where I currently live. The house where Samantha Sweeney lives is drawn from my memories of time spent in Raleigh, North Carolina, while my vision of Jackie’s farm comes from a mixture of pictures I found online. Regardless of the source of inspiration for setting in Her Sister’s Shoes, the town and its people have very much come alive in my mind. So much so, I plan to revisit Prospect with a new set of characters somewhere in the near future.
In a nutshell, there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to place as long as the author paints a picture that creates a vivid image in the reader’s mind.