Scribbler’s Saga #100 – Location, Location, Location

Posted: February 22, 2020 in Uncategorized
What stories might originate here?

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Dark ruined castles. Faraway sand swept plains dotted with evaporator towers. Orbital debris fields that are just one bad breakfast burrito away from an abandonment order like the Somme Battlefield. Cities cut by extreme tide surges out of basalt and obsidian. All of these places that mostly exist between my ears are exactly that places and if I could I’d open them up to travel agents and sell tickets…oh, right, write the F@$&ing book.

These imaginary places are also a convenient excuse for discussing how choosing the right locations changes the story.

Let’s take my most recent usage of dark ruined castle that time seems to have passed by. I watched the animated Beauty & the Beast again. I start asking questions the way I sometimes have to ask funny questions of all of my fan enthusiasms…



The question I had for the both the Disney movies highlighted by a dance in a yellow dress was this – “the sleepy little French village where Belle lives before going into the woods seems walking distance from the Beast’s castle, wouldn’t there be a built up legend about the dark woods and the monster reputed to live there?”

This question rattled around in my subconscious along with the other more consciously derived elements when I started playing around with goofing on a sequel/not sequel describing what happens after the kiss, fireworks and the assertion without proof that they lived happily ever after. I know I’m going to throw in an element where Belle (sorry, renamed Helena-Linda Aranajeuz de Feo) gets so freaking bored after reading every book in the Beast’s considerable library that she starts writing her own books to keep sane. I know I’m going to need something more than the lady of the house yelling at poor Lumiere to bring more ink and clean up the pile of false starts on the floor. And I know I need a location for the castle that makes the time passed it by quality of the original story.

I can’t claim my solution to the last question was entirely conscious. I started giving Helena-Linda her vaguely Spanish nature as a way to have her be named Belle without being named Belle. Thus, I changed languages to Spanish and go with Helena (prettiest woman in Ancient Greece), Linda (pretty in Spanish) and a made-up surname that sounds like a concerto by Rodrigo I happen to like and hear a lot. And de Feo (ugly) is a good married surname for the Beast’s wife in French.

Without even consciously addressing the question of how the Beast in his castle is completely unknown to the villagers in the nearby community, by picking languages I backhandedly solve the problem…The Pyrenees. A border area between France and Spain, the mountain range also has the tall confusing mountain trails where you might get lost and find a castle that time has forgotten only to never find it again on the second try. Places where the magic required, doesn’t have to work as hard to say hidden.

I would’ve had to answer the question eventually. And I would get to the same place where once I have the answer to – “where do they live?” – I also have part of the answer to who these people are. Suddenly, I’m writing a few pages where Belle refers to the Beast as Señor and the Beast calls her Madame and I can sort of justify that most of their words rendered in English for the benefit of the reader as a common in between dialect that’s neither French nor Spanish.

Let’s talk about the Obsidian City. This place I’m really hoping to put on the metaphorical surf safari for you all. Sources for the city include whichever nature show talked about the Bay of Fundy with its forty-foot tide shifts last. Or the since abandoned story in which the city first appeared, an interstellar fairytale with quite a few shared elements with several traditional tales. The even more pie in the sky sequel would’ve had the title, “Sleeping Beauty Don’t Surf!” (thank you, Major Kilgore). When I realized I needed to rewrite another book centered on a great city, I just did the fold, spindle mutilate job all writers do and ported the city over.

Unpacking these mostly subconscious decisions leads you to all kinds of revelations that branch out in all directions. More basalt, a gray-black volcanic flow rock, is created by the nearby volcano, than true obsidian, a volcanic glass good for early spears and killing ice zombies. I get to comment about a city calling itself the Obsidian City for branding purposes…sounds way cooler.

I’ve also as a matter of narrative just created a volcano. Wow! At some point the savvy reader will ask when the writer gets bored of the place and just have Vesuvius blow the hell up and bury Pompeii already. Have I just created opposing religious cults, one for appeasing the volcano goddess and the one for nihilistically encouraging said next eruption? And how will these story elements show up in the everyday speech and patterns of doing business in the city?

A volcano on top of the already fantastic tide surge, I must either really hate the Obsidian City or, unlike the Chinese Emperor I see some value in – “May you live in interesting times.”

And with an eye towards being plausible, deciding on the Obsidian City as my city also affects other nearby places on the map, specifically the blighted land of Crodol. My city is a stand-in for Minas Tirith, which means that the bad guy abode is going to be the same distance away as Mordor is from Minas Tirith. It follows that the tide surges that turn Obsidian City into the kind of place where everyone runs upstairs twice a day to avoid hell and high water also afflict Crodol, described as reclaimed from the sea/tidal basin by sea walls. Gee, different engineering solutions to the same geographical problem. How does this affect…

Truthfully, I just came up with the place so my hero from California could do a little urban surfing to impress his queen. Choose a location and watch how it affects many other elements of your story, because where and how we live is part of who we are as anything else.

I don’t just have to answer these types of questions with the fantastic and faraway. Some of my stories are clearly about Los Angeles suburbia where I got to grow up and had to leave once it became clear I couldn’t afford to live there as an adult. A place of wide streets and tall trees to accommodate football games that end when I punt the ball into the treetops.

And yes, there are apartments and condos with slightly different vibes. Where do you set the fistfight on page four? Did you have a really good gag for the Petersen Auto Museum? What is the feel of the place? How much road rage do your characters exhibit because – “wow! Shit just got real!” The point of this seemingly random mix of nostalgia and overarching weird serves a purpose…to help you think of the locations you choose for your stories become integrated into the story. That if you choose the Pyrenees for a fairytale update, suddenly one character speaks Spanish while her husband speaks French. That a cool city driven by a nearby volcano is a powder keg that will change the story while you aren’t looking. And you can find magic everywhere…   

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