...is where I've set the first chapter of my WIP, River of Tears. And this setting is: New Zealand
I've written about this setting choice in another blog, but that was several revisions ago. Since then I've been concentrating on amping up the suspense for this important first chapter. (I'm sure I have several blogs on revisiting the first chapter!) And while I did that revision for the hook, I just had to put the logistics of describing the setting out of my mind, as much as possible. Yes, I know I'm not done yet with that first chapter.
The setting. Oh, it started out so easy. Picture the lush green landscapes of New Zealand. You've probably seen it in movies like the Lord of the Rings and King Kong, Bridge to Teribitha, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and many more. New Zealand was also the setting in the TV series Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess. Remember those?
In a word, the setting of New Zealand is iconic.
The thing is, in many films set in New Zealand, we don't know this is where we are. In fact, we are most likely not in New Zealand, at all, but in a fantasy setting.
Perfect. This is what I want; a fantasy setting. I need a river and a waterfall and a large forest of mythic proportions for my hero and heroine to have an adventure. With only this in mind and the combined background settings from film playing like a memory, I figured New Zealand was the ideal setting. I wrote the scenes for this chapter long ago and made other assumptions along the way. It's hot. Without a bit of research, I had my hero and heroine in an open-top Jeep, decked out in khaki shorts and batting away insects while unnamed native birds scold them from the treetops.
Ah, ignorance is bliss. It's a little different when a fantasy setting is written as a real location. For one thing, the country has a diverse climate. And it's not all gnarly treed forests and waterfalls. As I've found, there are limits of regional geography that the fantasy world of film can pretty much ignore. Yes, I probably went about this backwards. Is there something wrong with thinking to make reality match my fiction? LOL
I know (sigh), now I have to make an attempt to match my assumptions to reality. But how much? I'm not writing a travelogue, but each bit of authenticity has the potential to get me into trouble. Do I identify birds and trees native to the region? Maybe, but would my city-girl heroine know this anyway? Or place names, like the river they'd been following until they went off the beaten track. I'd thrown in the Waikato River, but have since nixed that when I find out the Waikato region is mostly farmland.) Or, when Ben, the hero, says "if we leave now we can be back at the hotel before dark." Is it important to say where this hotel is? Auckland or Wellington? Uhm, where is that? Which leads to, of course, where are they? Could they be back by dark?
All this and its the only chapter in this location. Then I'm "home free" in the more familiar setting of Washington, DC. (I'll complain about the familiar another time.) This is when a writer either chucks the challenge of writing a far off setting or says nothing specific enough to get them in trouble. How fun is that for the reader? It's an interesting balancing act between detail and purpose for the scene. Much of the detail, in a single instance, doesn't matter, but I do see a need to touch on some reality. Besides what I also make up, that is. I do have a fantasy location of the rope bridge they find. Trust me, no one will ever find it. :)
Now to search for the nearly perfect regional location, the web will help me out. From the website New Zealand Waterfalls, I see a lot of prospects!
How do you tackle writing about locations in a far off lands you've never been to?