But the thing is, it's not a *good* thing to do. The reader can tell that you're keeping things misty and vague, and so the place never seems very real. And once you ground a place properly, the location shapes the story.
I'm still secretly a play-writer, and I'm not sure how much I realised that location affects the story and/or characters, as obvious as it seems. But I'm doing some work on the Fantasy Noir, picking up the threads again after a week and a half of having (another) chest infection. This iteration of the book, this complete rewrite without referring to any previous version of the book at all, is set in Melbourne. I wrote that our main character, Alex, catches the tram into work in the mornings because, hey, it's the transport mode of choice when you're just dealing with the CBD in Melbourne. But I'm increasingly getting the sense that trams are going to be important. I'm not sure how important, yet. I don't think the main confrontation with the villain is going to be on a tram in peak hour. I'm not sure they're going to be plot-related important, but I do think they're going to be grounding-the-story-in-a-concrete-
It hadn't occurred to me before beginning the project, but I guess you can't write a noir in Melbourne without trams.† And I'm finding it odd and pleasant that when I'm writing about Melbourne trams in a book set a bit after WWII I'll be writing about W-Class trams (my favourite!), which were very much my earliest memories of trams, and which were the cornerstone of my years at my Second High School. Oh man, and I'll have to remember to include conductors. Which were also part of the first year or two of my life at high school. The conductors were about the only thing keeping the grammar school kids in check.
And, of course, because this isn't just a noir novel but also an urban fantasy (ah, those days before I knew Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden when I thought this was unique‡), I may also need to work out whether and how the magic system interacts with something like the tram network.
Come to that, I need to work out how the magic system works.
* Really true. I came out of Blues dancing with a Floridian and another Melbourne friend one evening. The Floridian couldn't work out what this woman was doing, standing in the street but not trying to wave down a car. Juz, the other Melburnian, and I worked it out almost immediately: she was trying to peer down the road to see how far away the tram was.
** I kept vacillating between English-seaside-town and Australian-seaside-town for Shadow Boys; in the end I went with the latter, patchworking together bits from different towns I spent summer holidays in. But it's mostly Airlie Beach and Port Macquarie, really, with a large chunk of Proserpine, which is not a seaside town, and the St Kilda pier is stuck in the middle of the strand. It's Proserpine's sugarcane mill that overhangs the town and becomes the Doctor's castle in the other world. And the whole is stuck in New South Wales, somewhere north of Sydney. And, to continue this air of disclosure, it's my grandmother who lives in Proserpine who I had in mind when writing Lesley's family there. Although none of the family dynamics really resemble that branch of my family, Grandma is the undisputed head of it, just like Lesley's barely mentioned grandmother.
† Technically, if I were setting this in Sydney or Brisbane at the close of the Second World War, Wikipedia shows me that I'd have to include trams in that, too, as odd as it seems to me in the next century. Quote from a Radio National special on trams:
Robert Lee: At their height, Sydney was much bigger. Usage peaked at over 400-million in 1945, petrol rationing helped with that of course, so that was peak. 400-million is enormous. Just by way of comparison, Cityrail today moves around 200-million a year; in Melbourne the trains and trams each move around 100-million a year, so a total of 200-million, a bit more, for the trams and trains in Melbourne. Sydney moved 400-million by tram in 1945, Brisbane in the same year moved 160-million. So the Brisbane trams, a relatively small network, about 80 miles, moved almost as many people in 1945 as Melbourne's combined tram and train system does today. So huge numbers.
‡ Although since I was first writing this book in 2001 and (according to Wikipedia) the first two Dresden books were published in 2000 and 2001, that's kind of forgivable.