Tuesday, January 5, 2016

How Much Does Geography Matter?

I like to be as real as possible in what I write.  If my story takes place in our world, I do the research I can and try to make the setting conform as closely as possible to what the site truly looks like.  However, there are times when geography has to conform to the story.

As writers, we have to be selective with this.  In my novel Akeldama, I think I can get away with bending the geography a bit in places because several of the settings are in out of the way locations that most folks will never go to.  For example, Salina is a great town, but it's also in central Kansas and most people will never get there.  It's along I-70, and as much as it contributes to the book, I can't see great pilgrimages there.

Other areas, on the other hand, require more fidelity.  Granted, hordes of people won't flock to the Vatican to retrace the steps Seth Gendrickson took to confront the head of the Roman Curia, but it is a major tourist destination that people will recognize.  The real images in their heads will override the way you need things to look, so a greater devotion to reality is required.

I suppose the best answer is to bend the geography where necessary, but don't go overboard.  Readers will forgive you for a little fudging, but that forgiveness depends on the profile of the place and the boundaries you maintain.  Since most won't visit Salina, and have a mental picture of a sleepy Kansas town, I can get away with making it a little more rural than it may actually be.  However, I can't turn Los Vegas into a European countryside, no matter how much the story demands it.  Better to reset your location than to go too far.


  1. Although the little village where my first two novels are set doesn't exist, the town is set in the county where I live. Whenever the characters go out of town into the surrounding area, I try to keep things as accurate as possible--I know too many people who would be happy to call me on it!

    1. I get that, and I try to be accurate as well. Unfortunately, sometimes geography has to bend to the needs of the story. The real question, to me, is how much it affects suspension of disbelief. If the audience is all local, that can be huge. If not, it might be worth the chance, but only if the story requires it.

    2. True, and one of the signs that you're getting more successful as a writer may be when your audience is no longer all local!