Creating a believable setting isn't as easy as you might think. Using a place you know as a backdrop, as I did in The Ninja Tattoo and Under the Western Sky is easier, but what if your action can't all be done at real locations? Time to get inventive.
By inventive, I don't mean digging out road maps to some city that fits your needs, why not make something up?
For Undercover Lover, among others, I wanted a big city, but didn't want to use NYC, Chicago or other metropolis. Why? Because I'm basically lazy and don't fancy the research. Also, if I get my facts wrong. Someone will call me on it. As I don't much like the idea of engaging internet trolls, I chose to make my own city.
This city has no name. I couldn't come up with a name that sounded credible. I hate the hokey names they give cities in soap operas (and Sunnydale was taken) I didn't want more trolls crawling out of the woodwork telling me their city has that name and X was wrong with my tale. Therefore, it is a mysterious city somewhere near Canada and west of NYC, but east of Chicago.
I created some landmarks—a magnificent art deco hotel, a newspaper, a coffee shop, mall, art gallery, museums, aquarium and other sights to see. There is no map except the one in my mind, traffic is as busy or not as I choose. Some characters live in a ritzy development near the lake, others in less pricey and prestigious areas of the city.
An architectural firm does remodels of old, historic buildings—making exclusive condos from an old department store, for example.
There are spies, thieves, billionaires, wealthy old families, nouveau riche, doctors, lawyers and rock stars.
There are upscale suburbs, low class urban areas, sleepy small towns a few miles away from the craziness of the city—idyllic, quiet, crime free, there is a lake nearby and mountains. In short, any environment I want, is available. I have all flexibility I want with none of the real life hassles.
To keep it believable, I have traffic jams, crimes,emergencies, accidents—all the things we have in real life. They aren't the focus of my story, but the bustle of the city is always there.
My sci-fi settings are even more fun. Nothing takes place on Earth. I don't use our solar system at all. Readers will not find comforting old standards like green men from Mars. Instead, meet the moose-like Vandarans, giant feline Fellicians, the stately insectoids that resemble praying mantises, sentient rock formations the size of small asteroids, and the occasional amorphous creatures who fart to communicate.
Here, there are planet names like Aolani, Saltulle, Iyundo and Shakazhan. Everything in the known universe is run from an asteroid base called Committee Home Base. Here, each sentient race is represented, overseen by a Vandaran, Chairman Aisulov.
Later in the series, I introduce another planet. This planet is home to every mythical creature our legends speak of—and many more. Dwarves, nymphs and unicorns – I've got them, Zarboni, another cat race, I've got them too. Cloud Dwellers who look like airborne whales, anyone? But I digress. I think that aliens may be the focus of another article.
Each of these races needs a specific environment. You can't put ice people in a dessert, nor can you have cloud dwellers in a vacuum. I haven't fully explored these races and their habitats, but I can. Perhaps, one day, I will.
The important message here is setting can be as important as action. If your plot takes place in the wrong setting, the story is unbelievable. Give your characters the space to run and let them.
© 2016 Dellani Oakes
Dellani Oakes is the author of 10 published novels and over 100 more which haven't been published yet. She's a Blog Talk Radio host on the Red River Radio Network. She's also former A.P. English teacher and journalist.