I was driving around my neck of the woods here in southwestern Chicagoland the other day when it dawned on me how much of my novel-in-progress really could be set here. Okay, full-disclosure: it is set in this area–at least parts of it are–but the names have been changed. I can’t give everything away, lest there won’t be any point in using faux names for these suburbs I have created, the street names, the style of housing.
As my car wound around the US highways, the suburban landscape having morphed into housing developments seemingly overnight from corn fields, I see a strong resembelence to the world I created for my characters–Annie, Steve, Joe, Beth and their counterparts.
We could go south a ways and I could show you the real Cherrydale, inspiration for Steve’s stomping grounds. If I shot over west, I’d point out the McMansions that made an appearance in Annie’s chapter on the secret shopping adventure for a real estate developer. If we go back to the US highway I mentioned, I’d slow down and gesture towards the smattering of roadside motels which became Steve’s respite following a fight with his wife.
It’s not that any of this was intentional–but merely a coincidence–(ah! Another theme of the book). These so-called ‘places’ came to life in my novel. No, that was never my full intention. But when the places spoke to me as if there were real, living breathing characters it dawned on me that they were an integral part of the book.
However, many of the places of Slippery Slope remain a figment of my imagination. The Cress Creek Bistro? Doesn’t exist. Carmargo Medical? Don’t think so–but it is a conglomeration of several medical and manufacturing facilities I am familiar with. The townhouse complex with Beth and Steve first live in Rock Island–fake. Pat Cooper’s Victorian apartment and office–came to me in a dream.
When you start to think about your work-in-progress, where might you develop ideas for settings? What places from your past or present may represent a unique perspective for your characters?
Take a drive. Look at the homes, the parks, the areas of recreation. Do you see your characters there? Jot some notes, snap a few photos. Review them from time to time. Heck, put them up on a bulletin board or tuck them into a notebook. Let them serve as inpiration when you work on your project.
What are you waiting for? Write On, Wednesday!