The Makings of Places

Surprise! Not a post about the store, for once…yay! Though that is coming along nicely, now that I’m figuring out how to use the WooCommerce software. But I digress….

I’ve been thinking a lot about places lately. Settings, in writer-speak, but ultimately, how being in a place affects people, and how different places affect people in different ways.

Being mostly a “pantser” (wherein I write “by the seat of my pants” without hashing out a plot first), I often struggle with my settings. I don’t like to write about places that exist, because I don’t want to risk “getting it wrong”, or worse, (because my perspective will most certainly be different than the people who actually live there) malign someone else’s love of a place because of my markedly different and possibly negative perception.

I wasn’t really too worried about that last bit until I read a book set here in my hometown, by someone who moved here from elsewhere, and their perception of the place, valid as it is, really took away from the actual story for me. I spent the whole book focused on the things they didn’t like about the place I love (not that it’s perfect, but my perception of certain things didn’t match theirs, obviously), and constantly telling myself that it wasn’t something I should take personally (which I totally shouldn’t)…but just having to do that left a sour taste in my mouth for the book itself.

I don’t want to do that to someone else’s hometown.

I decided years ago to write in my own made-up places, and then a few years back, I decided to create a more concrete setting where I could place the majority of my stories, and not have to keep making up a new city or town every time I sat down to write. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if the place names I wanted already existed in those forms, and a lot of time looking at maps so I could situate my growing city and adjacent small “tourist-trap” town somewhere that nothing else was, and that the topography matched what I needed for a specific subset of my stories.

I’ll admit right now – this is far more work than trying to get the details right for an existing place (though less work, perhaps, here in Montana than it would be elsewhere, since we still have a lot of open space to play with). But I’m all in now, and some of my drafts are rooted in these places, so they are “real” in my head and these stories couldn’t happen anywhere else.

My most recent problems are visualization and growth over time. My ability to design the layouts of my settings in my head is very limited – I have severe tunnel vision when it comes to visualizing places. I’m not a cartographer, I’m not an architect or engineer, and while I can visualize individual houses and to a limited extent, streets, I have a very hard time visualizing an entire place in my head at once (even an existing place).

I recently decided (after repeatedly trying to draw rough sketches of what I thought my towns might look like and failing spectacularly because my drawing abilities are cave-painting at best) to see if Copilot (because it’s easy to access) could give me a reasonable visual representation of my made-up towns, and more than that, since my stories span generations, if I could get a visual of how those towns/spaces would possibly change over time as far as architecture, size and skyline go. I have to say, I was really pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to have an image created of what my made-up “spaces” might look like, and how they might evolve through the decades. I went back and forth a bit on details, and got them looking like a real small city and nearly abandoned tiny town, and worked on getting the topography to look how I needed it to, and…yeah.

Now I have working visuals I can refer to while writing, that will keep me from having to explain why the saloon is in one spot in one book, and an entirely different spot in the short story I wrote during the same time period (hint: in that case, it would be my inability to remember where things are, so, writer mistake). Super handy, super helpful, and it’s going to save a ton of time having those to refer to as I’m writing.

I’ve also been doing a lot of research on how towns were formed in the late 1800’s (when my saga is starting) – the whys, the hows, the whos…and it’s all very fascinating. This is all information that will go into the stories, but not directly. It’s more that all these things will imbue life into the characters and their backgrounds, which are inextricably linked to the history of these two settlements.

And of course, the people who settled there came from somewhere else – another important part of their general makeup.

So…Meadowlark and Magpie Montana. As far as I know and can find, they only exist in my head, but they’re becoming more and more real thanks to a lot of research, some map-peeping, and some AI rendering.

Fun stuff…I’m excited to keep writing these stories and see how they turn out!

If you feel like it, tell me about one of your favorite places. I’d love to read about how it sounds, smells, tastes, and feels to be standing in the middle of a place you dearly love!

That’s it for this week! If you have a favorite thing to share, or want to recommend a book, TV show, video or podcast, comment below, email me at, or catch up with me on Facebook or Instagram.

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