Basing my story somewhere that I live?

by Amber C. G.
(Gallatin, TN)

Question: I live in Tennessee, somewhere that's probably not too popular, and I wanted to write about it in my book. It seemed easier to me, but I'm scared the book won't get popular because of the fact that where I live isn't popular. A lot of books are based in places like Chicago, New York, California, or another country. I can't travel due to money problems, so I can't go visit these places. What should I do?

Answer: Setting a story in a popular location such as the cities you mention is a tactic commonly used in film - especially romantic comedies. It helps people imagine themselves as the main character if they see her walking the streets of their own city, and there are a lot more filmg-goers in New York than a small town.

The same phenomenon seems to be true with romance books. Many Canadian romance writers are advised to set their novels in small US towns rather than small Canadian towns because the majority of romance buyers are not Canadian. However, this is not universally true and there are romance books published in Canadian locations.

I think the advice to stick to the big cities makes more sense when the setting is not an essential component of the story. Sometimes a setting comes across as just a backdrop, and the story could easily be placed in any number of cities - or even a "generic"
American city with a made-up name.

However, many people also like a film or book to transport them to an unfamiliar destination. It's called escapism. Literary fiction, in particular, often puts great value on the authentic representation of a place or period removed from the reader. Some books are as much about the location as the characters or the plot. For instance, Cry, the Beloved Country could hardly have been set anywhere but South Africa.

You have to know what genre you want to write, but I don't see any reason why you shouldn't set your book in Tennessee, if you can portray the unique atmosphere and culture of the place through the characterization, the language, and the landscape. Try to make the setting integral to the story, so that the story is about the place as well as the characters.

If you can give your book a ring of authenticity, the location could become a selling point. Remember that, to many readers, Tennessee is an exotic location that could be more interesting than New York precisely because it is less often seen in popular culture.

P.S. It's tough to balance the desire to write a book that's popular with the artistic desire to write what your heart wants to write. There are no easy answers, and no way to know which choice will ultimately be the most rewarding or fulfilling. Sometimes you just have to have different priorities for each project.

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