I'm writing a young-adult story, that is quite clearly set in my home town, because this is where I grew up as a young adult and it is easier to write about. Everyone speaks English, but speaks French when they're talking to a person of authority. The bus schedule sucks. The town is mostly white. These will all be used in an appropriately interesting manner without distracting from the main plot.

What I'm curious is if this will detract from the general approachability of my story to young-adults or if this can be done appropriately.

I'm aware this is related to this question, but neither the asker, nor do any of the answers address young-adult fiction in particular.

My evidence for and against this is as follows.

The majority of John Green books take in place in specific real places, with real land-marks that affect the story. He does this well, but I'm not sure what distinguishes his use of place from other stories I've read.

As a counter example, I remember reading as a youth Kit's Wilderness and being bored to tears by all the details about the mining community. This further backs up what I've heard that when writing young adult stories, it's somewhat important to leave wiggle room for the reader to project themselves at least partly into the role of a character.

To summarize, is there a rule of thumb for deciding the level of detail in regards to place in a young adult story?

  • 1
    Most specific towns are not unlike other specific towns. A reader will be well able to identify with a character in some city in, say, Idaho, if what happens in Idaho could have happened elsewhere. Just don't go into local stuff your readers from elsewhere don't care about, or only enough to give your story a sense of place, but focus on what they read your book for: human experience. Portray your real town as if it was made up!
    – user5645
    Commented Dec 1, 2013 at 18:50
  • @what, it sounds like you have the beginnings of a good answer there. Care to work it up into one? Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 2:15
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    (Reminder: we've still got a few days left to our Genre Q&A contest, including questions tagged "young-adult," such as this very question here!)
    – Standback
    Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 4:44
  • That's why I made it, but alas, it seems to be lacking in quality required to earn a raffle ticket. :p
    – Seanny123
    Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 7:53

2 Answers 2


I think it's important to figure out why you were bored by the mining community setting. Is it because the character made too much of the details without giving the reader a sense of why they were important? For example, if the reader is following the character through a day in the mines, are the details important because we don't know if at any moment the mine is going to collapse on the protagonist or her father?

I think it's less important to make the setting generic as is it to make the underlying meaning relatable. I can identify with feeling isolated, out of place, like I don't belong, but done correctly, it shouldn't matter if the isolated protagonist is in New York City, Amish country, Paris (France), Paris (Texas), Poughkeepsie, or Peoria.


One thing to consider is just how important the setting is to the story. If there are key aspects of the setting that factor into the story, then that could enhance the actual story. For example, "To Kill a Mockingbird" would not have had anywhere near the same impact if it had been set in New York City rather than the emotionally charged and racially segregated South.

In your own example, how important is it that the readers know that people speak French when speaking to a person of authority? What is the significance of it, and why would the reader care? Will it make a difference to the story? You could ask the same questions about the bus schedule. If you can answer those questions in a way that indicates that these factors provide added relevance to your story, then go ahead and use them.

Many books could just as easily take place in other locations without really having a major impact on the story itself. For example, the Twilight series could have just as easily been set in the Florida everglades or some remote region in Arkansas. There isn't really anything significant enough about the location for that series that makes it important enough to demand that the story take place there.

Think of your location as another character in your story. If it isn't important and doesn't provide an added element to the story, then don't spend too much time dwelling on it.

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