Below is a map of Harbortown, the fictional town of my side project currently going by the same name. I enjoy drawing maps, but wanted to see if I could find some place that approached what I was thinking of, and low and behold, I found it.
One of the coolest things about maps or any images you gather, is that they help to inspire the story. When I began this story, it started with crime that I thought would be cool, then developed more and changed focus when I created the main character, and finally morphed into a type of story when I figured out where I wanted to place things.
I wanted a foggy, seaside kind of place that would lend itself to a noir type setting. I scanned up and down the west coast with Google Maps until I discovered a town of about the right size and met the current, sparse needs of the story. I began to create places in this town, bad guys, good guys, neighborhoods, and so on. When you do this, you’re always wondering just how the main character fits into this place. If she grew up here, what would life have been like? What would have inspired her to become a Detective in a place ruled by crime? The more I began to flesh out the town, the more her life actually came to life. It inspired thoughts and story directions I hadn’t considered or thought of before. In short, maps are a great development device.
Sometimes setting is just that, a backdrop to contain the plot and characters, but when it feeds into the characters and helps drive the plot, it becomes a character all its own. Harbortown is becoming like that for me, filled with quirky, strange, and badass people. It’s going to be fun writing a story in this town and watch my characters interact with it. From Old Man Smoothie, the ice cream shop owner to Casper Winegarten, the coroner, who totes around a Scooby-Doo sippy cup full of $100 wine, the town is an inspiration and I hope to make the most of it.
So, if you are stuck on a project and unsure where to go or what to do, flesh out the setting where your characters live, bring it to life, and see what can happen. You’ll be surprised.