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Adding spice to your story with well-known events and places

October 31, 2013

Every year at this time, the thoroughbred racing world takes a little vacation in New York, venturing north from Belmont and Aqueduct to Saratoga–about twenty minutes from where I used to grow up. Like most other natives of most places, I didn’t go to the track that often when I lived there. And like almost all people who move away from someplace, I always wanted to.

Unfortunately, schedules usually put me in upstate New York in early July, well before the Saratoga meet.

If you’ve never been to Saratoga, it’s a neat place. It’s more cosmopolitan than it used to be, but it’s still a small city in the foothills of the Adirondacks. That’s part of its attraction (there’s also the free beer place, but that’s another story).

Robert B. Parker set part of The Judas Goat at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Beyond that, I don’t remember many other books set at well-known events, like the racing season in Saratoga. But why not?

Events, like people or even locations, can take on character-like status in your work. And as long as the event doesn’t seem to come out of the blue to solve plot problems, there’s no issue with using them to advance your plot and complicate your characters’ lives. Why not have your protagonist reach his lowest point right before the featured race, when his fiance confronts him, then storms away while everyone looks on in one of the boxes in the grandstand?

Why not have your antagonist buy time by scoring a ticket to that sold-out Dave Matthews concert, forcing the good guys to cool their heels outside while figuring out whether to wait, or try to scalp a ticket to get in and continue their search? (It might be good to ask permission on this one.)

Why not have your heroine find out she’s been deeply betrayed while she stands in line outside Target very early on a cold, snowy morning the day after Thanksgiving, leaving her to deal with the emotional turmoil around hundreds of other cold people who stayed up all night and don’t have any more coffee to keep them warm?

I suspect these things aren’t ignored because they don’t work–they’re ignored because people don’t think of them.

What do you think?

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