Nothing is more aggravating than reading a book or watching a movie in which the so-called locale is presented wrong in every aspect. For example, the Spielberg movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind supposedly takes place in Muncie, Indiana. Well, that’s ridiculous. In one scene Richard Dreyfus enters the city electrical plant, which is the size of something that would run Los Angeles. (Muncie has a squirrel on a rotating belt.)

In another scene Dreyfus looks out over a cliff into a deep valley. The only “valley” in Muncie is a small dip in a street where it passes under a viaduct. The police uniforms are all wrong, the newspaper banner is incorrect, even the milk cartons aren’t portrayed accurately. Worst of all, there is a scene in which the characters stop to pay a toll at a booth leading into Ohio. For crying out loud, who would pay money to enter Ohio?

For anyone who has lived in Indiana, that movie’s locale-fiasco makes it impossible to concentrate on the plot. You, as a writer, do not want to be a perpetrator of something like that. In fact, you want to be praised for your sense of verisimilitude. I have received letters from people who have read my short stories and novels in which I’ve used Vietnam as a setting, and they have praised me for getting the weather right, the jungle vegetation right, and the language right.

Well, why not? I spent a year there as a sergeant in the army during the war, and I made a lot of notes and took a lot of photos. I know whereof I write. And discerning readers recognize when a setting rings true.

Making sure you nail your fictional locales will mark you as a professional writer.


This micro lesson is adapted from Finding Success with Your Dream Writing Projects by Dennis E. Hensley, Ph.D. , with Diana Savage (Bold Vision Books, 2017). All rights reserved.


Meet the Author

Dennis E. Hensley, Ph.D., is a professor of communication at Taylor University and a columnist for Christian Communicator magazine. His more than 60 published books include Finding Success with Your Dream Writing Projects with Diana Savage (Bold Vision Books) and Jesus in the 9 to 5 (AMG Publishers). He is a recipient of the Elisabeth Sherrill Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing and Speaking and the Indiana University Award for Teaching Excellence.