Ask an Editor: Setting
Ram Chandra Khatri asked:
How important is realistic and specific setting in Young Adult Romance?
Setting is always important. You have to get it right, because messing up your setting can throw someone out of your novel very quickly.
However… the level of detail needed to make the setting feel realistic depends upon the novel itself. Obviously, if you are in a dystopian or fantasy world, then you are going to need to put in more detail for the reader so that they can envision the world.
But, even in modern contemporary novels, setting can be important and vital. There are certain books where the setting is basically a character — especially ones set in very recognizable places like New York City. NYC is a place that has a very specific feeling and presence. There are iconic things about New York City — its landmarks, attitudes, etc. — that make it a cultural touchstone. You have to get that sort of thing right.
Likewise, if you are going to set your book in LA, you better not have your characters walking to work or school. You will need to talk about smog and traffic. In both of those places, you will have annoying tourists — this is just the way of life. But, if your book is set in a less well-known city, then you might not have to include as many touchstones or details. Of course, you will still need a few details to really sell the location, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be as much of a character.
If the setting and location is not a huge part of your story, or if you don’t really care where your novel takes place other than very general things like A City in Europe or Somewhere in the Country, then you might want to consider placing it in less recognizable locations, like a random college town in New England or even make up your own town or city.
Or, you can make it really easy on yourself and pick a town or area you are familiar with.
The important thing is that you don’t want to throw someone out of your story by misrepresenting a place they are familiar with, or by not explaining a place that doesn’t exist.