As fantasy authors, we’re always conscious of the need to make our ‘verse fantastical. The last thing you want to hear from beta readers is, “Meh, I just didn’t get any sense of the place.” On the other hand, we need to have settings that feel real. And that usually means stealing little bits of places that we’ve actually been in our lives.
In an earlier post, I mentioned our honeymoon to Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. Those are really important settings for us, because we went there together, and we both remember what those cities look like. Another place we both know well is a certain Midwestern public university that we both attended. It was, in fact, the place where we met.
Some of the oldest buildings at this not-especially-old school are in the northwest corner, stretched at the top of a low hill in a gentle semicircle, with a wide, tree-covered lawn in front. It’s a really lovely spot, although it’s far enough from the dorms that people rarely ever hang out there. I used to walk around the campus a lot, and the sight of that row of buildings always stuck with me, so it made its way into our Quartet as part of the school that our heroes attend in the first novel.
Of course, the buildings there are in the wrong architectural style—something that I guess you would call “Collegiate Neoclassical,” or “Early 20th Century American High School.” The buildings in our fictional school are more likely gothic. And when I think of gothic architecture, I always think of my undergraduate university—a place renowned (or perhaps notorious) for its massive, fortress-like gothic buildings.
None of this is to say that you can’t write gothic settings without having lived in a faux-Oxbridge dorm. It’s just interesting how my ideas of what Myrcia looks like are based on places I actually know. The upside of this is that I have a real sense of what the place looks like, feels like, even smells like. The downside is that any time I look at pictures to remind myself of certain details, I run the risk of disappearing down nostalgic rabbit holes.