Settings problem

I’ve been working on a story in my head and had it in some desert location, like Tucson. Problem: I’ve never actually been to the American Southwest. I complain at length when people get places I’ve lived wrong, so I don’t want to make someone who actually lives in Tucson go “say what now?”

So I thought maybe I’ll move it to Miami, where I was born and raised. Only I haven’t been home in about twelve years so it has probably changed enough to make any reference I make anachronistic. (My story is set in contemporary times or at the very least no more than “two months from now.”)

Then I realized I still think of Miami as “home” and I was all like nooooooooo…..! Just when I thought I was out… They pull me back in!

But the story doesn’t really “feel” Miami-ish. It feels like it belongs somewhere out west. (No. It’s not a western. God no. Go wash your brain out with soap.) Maybe I’ll put my characters in Los Angeles. I visited there for a few days and like every American who grew up in the Seventies lived there vicariously through television so I know it, yeah?

No.

Maybe I’ll work on my other story, the sort of steampunk one though mostly it’s more airships. And bisexuals. No, the airships aren’t bisexual, the king is. So is his boyfriend so it all works out in the end. (I’m a big fan of happy endings, aren’t you?)

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9 thoughts on “Settings problem

    • OK, I read it, the upshot is I think I’m going to either have to change my setting or take a trip to Tucson. This story’s going to stay in “draft” form for a while.

      • One of the (unlisted) suggestions was making up your own town or city in that region. That means you need a general feel for the Southwest and what it’s like to live there, but you don’t have to worry as much about specific Tucson-related details. Unless you really need it to be a real-life city.

        The only movies I’ve seen in recent years that are set in Tucson or other parts of Arizona were filmed in the 70s (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) or 60s (Lilies of the Field) so they wouldn’t be as much help for life there nowadays. I did like the idea of wandering around on Google Street View and looking at Flickr photos; if nothing else it can be a fun way to procrastinate.

        This is why it’s great to just be able to make up your own planet and set the story there.

      • Since the closest I’ve ever been to the Southwest is flying over it in a 747, I think trying to make up my own town there would fail even harder. I concur with the making up planets thing — at least no one can say “I’ve been to Xorcoaxx and you got it completely wrong!

        Or… could they? If I made Xorcoaxx look just like Kansas only with three moons, yet full of stock middle American white people, what would it matter if I’d tried really hard to describe the purple trees and yellow ocean? This is something I notice with too many fantasy worlds — the worldbuilding actually sucks.

      • People can be lazy about world-building. They might be satisfied by making a few superficial changes to someplace on Earth and letting that suffice, or they just throw together a whole bunch of things (a few moons here, some larval monsters there, voila!) and think that makes a world. Any new world needs a great deal of thought about everything from climate and geology to politics to little cultural details – and there has to be some kind of logic to the fantastical or sci-fi elements in it. Good world-building is still difficult but it’s a different sort of difficult than researching an existing place to set your story in. If people approach it carelessly you get what you describe: Kansas with three moons and purple trees. (There’s no place like home.)

  1. Are there any Tucsonians among your readers who’d be willing to look at it and critique it for accuracy?

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