Building a Fictional Town

by +AneMulligan @AneMulligan

Building a fictional town in a historical novel isn’t the easiest of tasks I’ve taken on, but it is fun. I prefer fictional towns to real ones, because nobody can tell me there was never a grocery store at the corner of Main and Peachtree. In face I’ve only written one novella set in a real town (a favor to the mayor of Sugar Hill).
I love to write stories about women’s friendships and how they navigate through life’s troubles together. Some make good decisions; some make bad ones. After the last book in my Chapel Springs series (Life in Chapel Springs, Sept 2017) was turned in, I decided to go back to a book I had started a few years ago.

Originally, I planned to set this in a town nearby me, Buford, GA. However, because of the very real Bona Allen Tannery, everyone who lived in Buford was employed and unscathed by the Great Depression. So I needed to go south, into the farm country, where since the Civil Way, life had been hardscrabble for farmers.

With the blessing of my agent (since like Chapel Springs, this series has an ensemble cast of strong women surviving the Great Depression), I went back to a story I’d started and fallen in love with.

I had my characters for the first book, In High Cotton, and the basic plot outline (I’m a planster). Now, I started on the town. I knew the it was in a very rural farm area in south Georgia. I researched the area, found as many photos as I could. Then I researched what stores would likely be in a tiny hamlet. I found an area where three rivers meet (or two meet and form the third). It was perfect. In the middle of nowhere, I named the town Rivers End.

I came up with the grocery (owned by the main character, Maggie Parker), the dry goods store, a feed & seed, a barber shop, a gas station, a tiny weekly newspaper, a Post Office, a saloon, a small movie house, 2 boarding houses, a school/church/courthouse, and the small train station, and of course the jail.

I drew a map so I could keep track of where things are. But I’m a visual writer. I need to see it so I can draw my readers into the town. That’s when it got tough. I have such a strong visual image in my head, trying to find a photo that fits it is really hard.

Undaunted, I searched several ways. Finally, I came up with 9 photos that if I take parts from one, a “feeling” from another and this building and that one, I can paste my town together. One of those and my map are scattered through out this post. Since most of my storeowners live in an apartment above their store, I didn’t want 3 or 4 story buildings. Two stories would do, thank you very much.

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I drew a map so I could keep track of where things are.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)




Ane Mulligan
 is the former president of Novel Rocket. While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband, chef son, and a dog of Biblical proportion. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.

Writing Southern

by +AneMulligan @AneMulligan

I write Southern-fried fiction. But how is writing Southern different to writing fiction set elsewhere? It’s a lot more than throwing a few “y’alls” into the story. Southern is a way of life, a set of priorities intrinsic to the South. It’s a sixty-year-old, former pro football player calling his parents “mama” and “daddy.”

Like cowboys have the Code of the West, Southern women have their Code of the South. That mind set digs its heels in and won’t let go. Just try to wear white shoes or pants after Labor Day. You’ll see. I’ve tried to break that rule ,but I get as far as the bedroom door and run back to the closet to change.

I’m used to crowded freeways in other states, but it’s different in the South. I’ll never forget the day I had a blowout on the Atlanta 285 Bypass. The traffic was moving at a brisk eighty miles per hour with me in the second to the fast lane. In that first moment of panic, I looked in my rearview mirror and the vehicles parted behind me like Moses parted the Red Sea. I was able to move to the right shoulder. Before I could even remove my seatbelt, a pickup truck with four men pulled up behind me. Those good ole boys changed my tire and me back on the road in five minutes flat. That’s Southern, folks.

In a lot of cities, you’d wait until you turned old and gray.

Southern is expecting rescue. It’s warm hospitality and open doors. It’s graciousness and charm. It’s hallowed traditions carried on long after anyone remembers the origin. It’s iron in the veins of women as delicate as flowers.

Wherever you live and set your novels, be sure you know the customs and traditions. I’ve lived in three corners of the country. They are different. I set When the Bough Breaks in two states, then I plopped a Georgia peach in the middle of New York’s capitol. Having lived it both places, I was able to make the reader see and feel the difference.

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Writing Southern is more than a few y’alls tossed in.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to tweet)

Southern is a way of life, a set of priorities intrinsic to the South.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, award-winning author Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and bestselling novelist. She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband, chef son, and a dog of Biblical proportion. You can find Ane on her website, Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Write a Novella? Easy Peasy …

by +AneMulligan @AneMulligan

Or so I thought.

Why didn’t someone tell me? Sure, a novella contains fewer words—about one quarter of a full novel to be exact. And I thought that meant less work. Ha! I mistakenly figured I wouldn’t need all that goal and motivation stuff. After all, this was short and a romance.

Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

It took a weeklong binge of Hallmark Christmas movies to open my mind to an ugly fact: It takes the same amount of time to work up the character interviews, learn their goals, motivations, lies, wounds, etc. And that list doesn’t even include the plot. Yikes.


I didn’t think of that part when I signed up. No, when some friends called for submissions for a compilation, I just opened my big mouth. The deed done, I needed to figure out how writing a novella was different.

I’m used to penning 90K+ word novels. I show and don’t tell, and I write in deep POV. You don’t do it the same way in a novella. You have to tell a bit more in 20K words or you’ll never get the story inside your word count. But you have to do it so it doesn’t feel like telling. Great.

If you read my last post here on layering you’ll understand more about how I write. You still have to layer in a novella, but there isn’t room for a single word that doesn’t serve double duty. Make that triple duty.

So what’s a writer to do?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I called my critique partners a lot. I had to reconfigure the story I had in mind. Then I wrote a few chapters … and rewrote them … and rewrote—well, you get the idea. I’ve redone all the GMC several times to get it right.

I’ve think written a novel’s worth of words trying to get the 20K right. I have a whole new respect for novella authors.

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How does writing a novella compare to writing a full novel? (Click to tweet)

I have a whole new respect for novella authors.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

Award-winning author Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. She’s a novelist, a humor columnist, playwright and creative director of a community theatre. She resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a dog of Biblical proportion. You can find Ane at her website, Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

More Layers to This Cake, Part III ~ Adding Subtext

by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan

Subtext is more than just a layer. It’s more like the filling between the layers. And it’s not the easiest of concepts to understand. By definition, it’s an underlying and often distinct theme in a piece of writing. It can be woven throughout the story, or the theme can merely decorate the work. I’d rather have it woven through, but how the heck do you do that without beating the reader over the head?

I searched some more, because, frankly, I didn’t know. Here’s what I’ve found.

Subtext or undertone is any content of a creative work that isn’t announced explicitly by the characters or the author, but becomes something understood by the reader as the story unfolds. 

Well, what do you know. I did that in Chapel Springs Revival. Claire is a fairly new Christian. I don’t say that directly but her knowledge and understanding show it. They’re in the subtext, shown through action instead of dialogue.

Any unspoken thoughts, motives, and emotions of characters—what they really think and believe—can play out in action or reaction to something and be subtext.

Subtext can also be used to imply controversial subjects without alienating the reader, often through use of metaphor or humor.

Subtext serves to add complexity to a premise that on the surface may appeal to younger viewers, but also attract older fans, as is often the case with cartoons, science fiction and fantasy. It can serve to aid in suspension of disbelief.

In historical novels, authors often use social customs, details, and/or dialogue as subtext to impart information about the period and culture.

So there you have it. A quick definition of subtext, in which I don’t think I used any. Now that you know the definition, have you used subtext in your work? Purposely or by accident? I know any I used was there because I like to show instead of tell. But if you had me sit down to an exercise of writing subtext, I’d sit there scratching my head. For me, it’s only when I’m deep into my story world those things seem to happen. Go figure.

So share with me examples of subtext you’ve either used or read. And if it’s used, did you discover it later or purposely insert it? I need to learn this stuff.

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More Layers to This Cake, Part III ~ Adding Subtext by Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

The filling between the layers.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

Something understood by the reader as the story unfolds.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

Ane Mulligan
writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. She’s a novelist,
a humor columnist, and playwright. She believes
chocolate and coffee are two of the four major food groups and resides in Sugar
Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a dog of Biblical proportion. You can
find Ane at anemulligan.com or her Amazon author page.