Places of Interest

Places with Personalities
Pam Uphoff

I was upset when Harry Dresden’s basement apartment burned down. Really.
221B Baker Street. An indelible part of the Sherlock Holmes mystique.
Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin without their NYC Brownstone? Inconceivable!
And vehicles too. Would Star Trek be the same without the Enterprise? Star Wars without the Millennium Falcon?

Making a tiny part of your make-believe world a familiar place, describing a minute part of a whole world in detail can both pull a reader into a story, and establish a starting point for a world that you just can’t describe in the same detail. Using it as home base for a series starts the readers off knowing where they are: at home with their old friends. Or in danger, and a good thing they’ve got this ship/car/tank/whatever.

I find myself doing that in my stories. The village, the inn, the hotsprings.
And now I’ve got this silly vehicle . . . I didn’t mean for my characters to attach themselves to this battered old wreck. It just keeps coming in handy.


“That’s a bit of a wreck.”
Ebsa eyed Acty, then looked back at the dents in the crawler. They look . . . familiar.
The mechanic bristled. “Do you have any idea how short on equipment we are? If the Powers That Be will stop panicking over their precious Special Super Secret Project—which everyone knows has to be those weird Helios people—or wait six months instead of trying to instantly field every team in existence and some that aren’t,” he glanced meaningfully at them, “we could properly supply those teams. We can supply you with everything you need. What is available right now is the crawler we decided to use for spare parts, rather than try to repair.”

From _Fort Dinosaur_ by Pam Uphoff


Now it really doesn’t matter _which_ vehicle they check out of the motor pool, but this one has a history that the reader may suddenly recall. Even without having read the previous book, it’s battered and distinctive. It makes this vehicle special, it hints at history and give the world depth. Ahem. It also let me toss in a small data dump and first foreshadowing.

A single place, an office or home with “personality” can be an excellent start to world building. A place for characters to have roots. It’s location in a city, a village, a hundred miles from anywhere. A hut in the forest. A mansion in the ritzy part of town. Or the only house on the street in decent repair, the lawn, such as it was, mown. All these things tell the readers a lot about the world and they’re already making assumptions about the inhabitants.

Looking around at the rest of the Mad Geniuses . . . Dave is having a love affair with Australia. Kate . . . is all over the map, but her Vampire has become the protector of SF cons. Cedar’s got some interesting homes for Pixies and Gods. Sarah’s got a Diner in Goldport. A home on a spaceship called the Cat House.


And then, out of nowhere I hit something. Not hard. And whatever I hit was not as deadly solid as the diamond-hard trunks and certainly no powerpod. For one, it didn’t blow up.
Even after hitting it, I couldn’t see what it was. It was . . . dark. Straining, I could make out a rounded outline but barely distinguishable from the surrounding gloom.
My throat closed. It was a darkship.

From _Darkship Thieves_ by Sarah Hoyt.


And pets. A character’s reactions to animals can speak volumes about his character. Is he a puppy kicker, or a puppy saver? Does she get upset when her evil cat gets sick? Keep pet triceratops? Tarantulas? A character’s choice of pets tells a lot about the character and about the world.

The black-and-white sheepdog was more experienced at love than the dragon, and he was a young pup still, maybe eight months old. Barely more than a pup. But Dileas—whose name was “faithful” in an old tongue, long forgotten by most men—would go to the ends of the world for her, and beyond, as they were now. His mistress was his all and he would search for her until he died, or he found her.
Fionn knew that he would do the same.

From _Dog and Dragon_ by Dave Freer.


Dave tells you all about the dog, and the reader nods, personal experience kicks in. The reader _understands_ the devotion. And with a few more words, Fionn becomes a hero. As loyal and determined as a dog.

### Totally off topic! The above are examples of “Fair Use” of copyrighted materials. But after some outstandingly obtuse argumentation and attempted justification on facebook recently, I thought I’d head off any overreactions (and set a good example of “if in doubt, ask”) by asking Sarah and Dave. Who, of course, gave permission. I didn’t ask that Uphoff woman, she’s crazy and there’s no telling what she might say. ###

So here’s a writing assignment for you.

Make a home, a home away from home, or a vehicle. Some thing or some place your character loves or will come to love. Good Guy or Bad Guy. A Fortress of Solitude or an Evil Lair. A new character or an old one, doesn’t matter. They need a home.
What kind of pet does your character have? None? Well, that won’t do! Get him a pet, find out how much world building you can do while acquiring some odd critter.


And the self-Promo

For those who insist on paper and ink, all six of the Directorate stories in one huge volume.

And grab it quick, this is the last free day. Ra’d’s first appearance. Speaking of mayhem . . .



  1. I’ve been working on trying to come up with a mobile home for a treasure-hunter / archaeologist / dungeon explorer so one of the things I’ve been looking at are modern day mobile homes and small houses, as well as gypsy wagons. I also looked at pioneer wagons. *grin* Admittedly I’ve fallen into the fun of researching stuff so… most I’ve got are written notes on paper.

    1. Shadow, did you ever watch the TV series “Grimm”? Nick’s aunt passes him a travel trainer that would fit the bill perfectly. You see it a lot on Season 1. Stocked with books, weapons, etc. from multiple time periods.

  2. Working on “designing” a vehicle for one WIP for the main character. Tried one thing and it was unworkable (damn you physics). I try to think and design units, apartments, and such for each character when needed. You’re definitely right though how some inanimate objects are characters in their own right. Not to mention pets.

    1. Thanks to so many sites now using crappy fonts (probably fine on a mobile screen, but unreadable on a desktop), I have site fonts permanently turned off in my browser!

  3. I’m thinking about the high security apartment that starts off a current WIP. I probably need more effort establishing it. I’m not sure a pet is compatible with any of my major viewpoint characters. One of them does have a service robot whose assistance is significant.

  4. “Finally, a corporal was pushed forward. His name tag said ‘McGlashan.’ “Uh, hi ma’am. We were wondering if we could have our wheel back. The dog kind of stole it off our armored vehicle here, and now he’s playing keep-away.”
    She turned to the dog. “Spike, did you steal the boy’s wheel?” Spike, hearing his name, began wagging his tail. He started growling happily and chewing on the tire. “Spike, give me the wheel. Come on, good boy, bring it here. Bring it! Yes! Come on!” she slapped her knee. “Come on. Bring it to me!” Spike trotted over and held the tire just out of reach, then pranced away again chewing and growling. He gave the tire a good shake, just to make sure it was dead, then settled down for some more quality chewing, one paw over his prize.
    Brunhilde turned to the soldier. “I don’t think he’s done playing with it yet. Did you try throwing a stick for him?”
    “Well, um, we didn’t really get that far with the stick thing after he ate one of our rifles,” said the corporal. “He’s been stealing stuff and running around with it since we got here. He swiped Kennedy’s rifle and ate most of it, he swiped Rushlow’s helmet and ate that, he was going to swipe Burns’ bonnet, but Burnsie pried it out of his mouth.” He indicated a rather beefy young man wearing a very wet and bedraggled Glengarry bonnet. “Burnsie is crazy. Wrestled a dog the size of a tractor over a hat.”
    “He’s a good dog McGlashan, he’s just screwing around,” said Burns, unimpressed with the entire proceedings.

    *This is how my dear departed Spike would be if he was a science fiction dog.*

      1. Golden Retriever. He specialized in stealing socks. Right off your feet. And then playing keep-away and eat-the-sock. Just a matter of scale, really.

        He fights aliens too. ~:D

  5. I wanted to buy Warriors of the One, but when I clicked on it, Amazon told me I already had. The Kindle is getting unruly with 100s of books on it; I’ll find it, eventually.

    Great advice on places. “Home-base” needs a bit more description – but following other advice, I’ll just make a note to come back to it later and press on for now.

    I hadn’t thought of pets. In my main story-line (that exists only in my head), psychics are sought after for space exploration because they don’t need translators when aliens are encountered. Writing the far back-story (my million words that won’t be very good), foreshadowing that with a pet would be brilliant. Definitely doing it. Now the cats vs dogs decision…

    1. Places almost need more of a “feel” than a detailed description. People have their own ideas, their own experiences and will visualize details with little prompting. Huge north facing windows flooded the pale room with light. Or dark and cluttered, the air stale. Or dark and safe; he could feel his muscles relaxing as he collapsed on the sofa.

      Think about the senses. What size and color? What sorts of smells, quiet, or music blasting from the kids room. Any textures to mention? Hot or cold.

      1. “On it,” Trisha answered. She trudged up the stairs. It was a wonderful house, she thought .Mom and dad had their second floor bedroom wing. Janie had the second floor rear, the new extension, built like a rock to support her books. Brian had second floor front and lots of space for model stuff, and she had third floor front for bedroom and the tower room for studying. Third floor back and sides were guest rooms. The tower room was a wonderful conceit of a former owner. It was high above the street, with glass on all four walls. Its ceiling was painted the palest of cocoas. Hanging from the ceiling’s apex was a black, wrought-iron chandelier; more light from the room came from the line of fluorescent lights hiding behind valances along the ceiling’s perimeter. The walls, where they were not glass, were walnut; the floor was bleached maple. Brian had helped Trisha build bookshelves on three of the sides. Two had rows of shelving and then a wide sill that held two dozen potted plants, violets and christmas cactus. At the outside of each sill was a grate letting the perimeter radiators heat the room. One side was a long, wide window seat on which she could lie down. Under the window seat was a secret compartment, and inside the secret compartment was a second secret compartment. A third secret compartment went into the wall. It was small, but good for money and jewelry. It would have been good for jewelry, she thought, if she’d ever had any. The last side was a desk with a big writing surface and a computer, facing north so she never had the sun in her eyes. If she went up to the tower, no one ever, ever bothered her, so she could study in complete peace and quiet.

  6. The Connolly House in my deamon hunter book is slowly getting a floor plan. It has a long history (including the firmly entrenched belief that the original was burned by the Canadians on their way to Washington in the war of 1812. It wasn’t but don’t tell the locals that, you’re just wasting your breath.) Other stories less so. A sense of Place seems to be one of my weak spots. The Connolly House was the first SETTING that tried to become part of the story for pretty much any of my books. Now I just have to figure out how to re-create that sense of place elsewhere. 😉

  7. Dogs and houses are great, but avoid miles and cats. They’ll upstage the protagonist every dang

    “Will not! =^^=!”

    Ivan, stop that!

  8. I’m particularly weak at setting. (I’m hoping to insert some flavor on the first pass.) Which, now that you put it quite like this, is weird, since I’ve got several Really Important Places.

    I think the cult headquarters are going to be the best for this assignment. I’m basing them on an abandoned sulfur springs hotel in Sharon Springs–gigantic, beautiful, abandoned for decades. (Though I hear it got bought in 2008 or so?)

    Visiting over the weekend might be doable… yes.

    (The Good Guy spot is an independent study room in the school library. More fun to build cult headquarters. Most of the important stuff happens there anyway.)

  9. I spent a fair amount of time sketching the Wells residence and Eclipse’s home for The Girl Who Saved The World, and then had to add a wing.

    For those who do not believe how many indie novels are being published I present a list of the SF/F/H novels (>100,000 words) released by Smashwords…this month. This list appears monthly in The National Fantasy Fan (; free to public members). Yes, the lead object does claim to be 700,000 words, but it has a whole pile of authors.

    Smashwords Novels for May

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