I make no bones about it in my writing; I choose locations that are familiar to me. Very familiar.
In book one, WWIV - In the Beginning, the story begins in the same city in which I reside; Woodbury, MN. The path that Bill Carlson takes as his route goes along the highways and byways of west-central Wisconsin I have traveled too many times to begin to count. I've been to all the towns I mention in the book: Stillwater and Marine on St. Croix in Minnesota. Hudson, Milwaukee, Frederic, Balsam Lake, Stevens Point, Luck, and Bayfield in Wisconsin. I used to live by Milwaukee when I was first married. My wife and I have actually lived in Hudson as well.
The location of book two in the series, Kids at War, takes place near Dalton, Wisconsin. No one will recognize that name. Try and find Portage on the map. Dalton is about 20 miles northeast of Portage. Actually, the farm that is the setting for Kids at War is only a mile south of Dalton. It's a 100+ year old farm that has been in my family for over 40 years. There's real Amish neighbors, real out buildings, even the real woods as written in the book.
Are you getting this? I love familiar locations.
If we switch to my next series, The Smith Chronicles, book one takes place in the made up village of Golden. Golden is based on an actual location that I've been going to in northern Wisconsin since I was a baby. My paternal grandparents bought land in Golden back in the 40s. I visit this local no fewer than seven or eight times a summer. It's so remote, so beautiful, so peaceful, so off the beaten path that mere words cannot do it justice. Here's a short video clip introducing you to Golden:
So why do I choose locations that are so dear to me? Why not move out of my own little world and expand my writing horizons? Simple. I'm a rookie at this writing thing. Having written only about 500,000 words thus far, I have another 500,000 to go before I really get the hang of this writer stuff (at least that's what others say).
I have enough to worry about creating characters, content, narration, dialog, description, and so on. I feel if I already know my location, can close my eyes and place the action in a setting I am so comfortable with, well I'm halfway home. Plus, look at it from my point of view. I've been going to Golden since I can remember. There isn't an inch of land I haven't explored within five miles of the place. The farm near Dalton? I've covered every inch of the 120 acres there countless times. I've explored every road leading in and out. Even visited with many of the neighbors. My dystopian fantasies live in these places. Whether it's northern or southern Wisconsin, I've written hundred of pages in both spots.
For book three in the WWIV series, I will be traveling outside my comfort zone. This novel will take place in Salt Lake City and the mountains just east of that community. It's a beautiful area, though I've only driven through and that was only once. To help learn the area better, and thus create a solid location for the novel, my wife and I will visit the area later this summer. We hope to spend a week exploring the various locations I plan on using in the book. I'm really looking forward to this trip.
To me, location is just as important as the book's characters. They always say without believable characters your book will fail. I truly believe the same can be said about a book's location. That's why I use places I know...and love.
Have a great weekend. If you want a short (but deep) read for the upcoming days, might I suggest Ayn Rand's Anthem. Be forewarned, it's a book that will make you think...in more ways than one.