Both cities are renown for fog and I had plenty of fog but mine was rolling over Twin Peaks. Hers was rolling up the Thames. I had trolley cars and BART. London has the Underground and double-decker buses. She wasn’t seeing any of the landmarks of her City.
So, how do you evoke a sense of place? If you name the town or street, how do you ensure the person who reads those words has a real sense of where you want them to imagine themselves to be? Is a sense of location that important?
For some people, not being able to visualize a place is a serious barrier to their enjoyment. They feel disoriented and excluded, alienated – like being in a strange country without a map or knowing the language. Or worse, reading a poem written to discombobulate.
If you are writing about a place unfamiliar to you but critical to your story, how do you evoke that sense of authenticity your reader will want?
Last year, I attended a conference in which one writer of historical fiction praised satellite-generated images. While roaming streets of towns and villages you’ve never visited can be a help, it’s of no use for time periods that pre-date the technology. What may have been rural, uninhabited terrain in the 19thC is more than likely urban sprawl when that satellite passed by.
Wait a Lonely Lifetime, there was no doubt in my mind that the main body of the novel had to be in Firenze (Florence), although I had only been there for three days several years before I even had a notion to write this story. I had taken no photographs, bought no postcards, collected no tourist guides. I had vague memories of restaurants, piazzas and two obscure details that I knew I had to include.
Audacity was my guiding principle. As news readers are taught: if you aren’t sure how to pronounce a name, give it your best shot with authority.
Is location as important in fiction as it is in real estate? When you read a novel, do you look for road signs?