Writing Adolescent Fiction/Setting
To show the kind of region your characters are living in, give the town a name that reflects its character. Place names such as Massachusetts and Connecticut sound straight out of England; you can use a name like Suffolktown, Studham or Foxboro. A city in the South could have a Native American name like Matchagokie, while your British Columbia town could be named Quappasett or something else that reflects the First Nations history of that province. Something French-sounding like Guyet could set your story in Quebec. Towns in Southern California often have Spanish names like Los Higos; consider using one of these if you are writing a story about your SoCal teens. If you want to give the reader the idea that your town is right in the middle of nowhere in Middle America, try a name like Janesville or Oakville.
The flora of an area can place it in the reader's mind. Describing ailanthi planted along the around gives your story a New York setting, while an ocotillo planted on campus places your story in the Southwest. Palm trees and prickly pear cacti can give your story a Sun Belt setting, and are often used this way -- they feel contemporary, trendy and artistic. A high school campus where students sit under the eucalyptus tree can build the feeling of a story set in Australia.
These plants can be mentioned when a character sits under one, or perhaps when you say that Stephanie walks by the ginkgo trees you give an idea of what is planted there. In a road trip you can describe the plants (and animals) on the side of the road.
You will most likely make some mention of the characters' school in the story, and if you bring the school in the story often enough, you will probably have to come up with a name. Many high schools just take their name from the town they are in: Fairsprings High School, Elmtown High School. In New York city there are schools named simply by P.S. and a number: P.S. 132. Your Southern California high school will often have a Spanish name with a pretty meaning: Robles Lindos. And many high schools named themselves after public figures: Eisenhower High or William Randolph Hearst High School.
The names of schools can carry a symbolic meaning. A high school could be named Sweet Groves while the students there have struggle-filled lives that are anything but sweet. The school in The Escape is named Lincoln High, which reflects the faculty's hypocritical proclamations about freedom.
A school's mascot can give you some idea of what the faculty of the high school aspire to. A mascot like the Trojans would show that they hope to give teens a classical education, and if the mascot is the Spartans it would hint that the school is pretty strict, and the sports teams have a "go merciless" on the enemy ethos. A feline mascot (the lions, the cougars, the jaguars) could be more playful, but would still be a sign that the principal hopes his students will "claw" rival schools. Mascots can be ironic: after all, in real life, the mascot for conformist Columbine High School was the Rebels. Choice of mascot can also set the tone for your story: if your students are known as the Turkeys, your story becomes light-hearted and even silly.
It is important to flesh out your writing piece with information about the scenery. But be sure you scenery is location specific. If a scene takes place in a diner, obviously booths and greasy, but delicious, food will be present. Try and give scenery examples that characterize your location. Consider the following example:
The diner had tightly packed booths and shining trim around everything. A steaming plate of fries was seated in front of Sarah.
Has much less effect on the reader than
Discarded wrappers littered the floor, mingling with the grime of a long, uncleaned day. Laminated tabletops all across the small dining room were cracked with age and graffiti covered them almost as heavily as the outside walls. Grease dripped from the long, slender bit of fried potato as Sarah begrudgingly shoved it into her mouth.
By showing your reader the important parts of the diner, you can paint a picture in less than a thousand words.