Never Been, But I Heard It’s Nice
Recently I completed a story that takes place almost entirely in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Which is OK except I’ve never been to the Twin Cities. Maybe on a stopover at MSP but that’s it.
One takeaway is that I came away learning about the city and the region. Things that everyone knows like Target Field and the cities themselves everyone knows about don’t really add anything. I may as well put it in Chicago or Anywhere, USA. I wanted to give it a measure of authenticity. And it’s one thing to Google something, another thing to make it work.
The story takes place in the spring through mid summer, so I learned about the climate (late April it can still be cold at night, and it can get quite hot late July) I looked at the suburbs to see where the protagonist would live — I chose Oakdale, a town of about 28,000 outside of St. Paul, which although more upscale had modest areas where the protagonist would live. There would be a concert at the Wolfe Park Amphitheater, which is in St. Louis Park.
I also learned about the exclusive hotels out there. Did you know there’s a hotel out there called the St. Paul? It’s over 100 years old and it’s independent. Hotels — especially hotels of that class — are almost always part of a chain; from what I saw the Saint Paul was independent.
As far as the main characters’ occupation, I had to gloss over it; it was a part of the story but I didn’t want to spend too much time on what someone at a major accounting firm does, or someone in a warehouse does. Just enough to make it that we know what they do and where they go.
Product placement: some things I mention specifically: Tom Brady. The Vikings and how they always break your heart. The Patriots (who many characters refer to as the ‘Evil Empire’) Amazon. Macbooks. Other things I don’t: there are no phone numbers, but area codes are mentioned. Brands of phones are not mentioned, fictionalized or otherwise. The accounting firm one of the characters works at is fictionalized.
The main takeaway is I learned a lot about Minneapolis St. Paul, and the schools and the landmarks and the suburbs, what neighborhoods are exclusive and what are more modest. I learned about the climate and what the best secondary schools are. I knew of Target Field but I learned more about where it is, how it is set up (it’s on a parcel of land roughly equivalent to Fenway Park) And I left the door open for a sequel involving one of the supporting characters, where I expect to learn even more.
In the end what makes a good stories are characters that you care about, characters you grow to love. This has them. And enough authenticity that hopefully someone from there would read this and say ‘Yeah, I could see that. Yeah, I know where he’s coming from.’ I live in Southern Connecticut which is kind of dull; writing about things that take me elsewhere and teach me about the area, are much more exciting.
What’s next? It’ll either be Boston (which I know well) or Pittsburgh (where I’ve never been but I have friends out there). Whereever it is, it’ll be the characters that will determine whether I enjoy writing it or not. As always, stay tuned.