Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Fictional Worlds in Real Places

Special guest post by Mark Allan Gunnells

Some writers create fictional places in which to set their tales. I’m not talking just talking about fantasy or sci-fi novels that take places in other dimensions, realities, or planets. Sometimes books set right here on Earth in the here and now take place in fictional places.

King is the most prime example of this with his town Castle Rock, Maine. Castle Rock is based on real Maine towns, but the town itself doesn’t exist except in King’s imagination. As a writer myself, I’ve done this as well, such as with the fictional town of Sunset Ridge, South Carolina, in my novel Sequel.

And yet I don’t do this often. More often, I like to set my novels and stories in real places, places I’m familiar with. This may be places I’ve visited—like Savannah or New Orleans or Atlanta—but usually it’s the area in which I live.

The place I visit most often in my fiction is Limestone College in Gaffney, SC. This is my alma mater, where I spent four pretty enjoyable years of my life. I have a deep affection for the school, which seems to manifest itself in a series of tales where horrible things are always happening on campus. Weird, I know, but hey, I’m a horror writer. Weird is my bread and butter.

One of my most recent releases, the zombie novella Fort, takes place at Limestone. The story deals with a group of students trapped in one of the dorms by hordes of the undead, the thrust of the plot focusing on a desperate mission to get to the dining hall for food.

There is a particular joy in setting a story in a location that is real and familiar. In some ways it makes it easier, you already know the geography. For me, it’s also fun to imagine scenarios and situations that can happen in various places. 

When plotting out Fort, before the actual writing began, I actually visited the campus, walked around, thought, “Oh, I should set a scene here” or “This would be a great place for such-and-such to happen.” Since so much of the story took place inside the Fort dormitory, I enlisted the help of my friend Megan who is the daughter of the college President (and subsequently I dedicated the book to her) to get me inside the dorm while it was closed down. I wandered the halls, made notes and took pictures of everything, and that helped tremendously when I sat down to actually craft the tale.

In some ways, this can really be a thrill for readers who are also familiar with the location, as they may get a kick out of recognizing the various places and buildings. I know I feel that way when I read something set in a place I’m familiar with. For those who’ve never been there, they may not get anything out of it on a conscious level, but I do think it helps make the place feel more real to the reader when the writer is writing with such authority.

I will admit there are times I fudge on the realism when the story demands it. I call this “fictional license.”  For instance, I altered some of the construction of the dining hall at Limestone for Fort because it worked best for the story. I don’t think that’s cheating, it’s just the nature of blending the real world with the fictional world.

I had so much fun working on Fort and setting it at Limestone that I hope that it is infectious for the reader, and whether they’ve ever been to the college or not, I hope when they read the novella the world I created becomes real to them.

 Fort is available at Amazon. While you're there, be sure to check out Mark's author page, where you can find his other books.

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