In my last post I talked about how to generate character names so that you don’t have to spend time and brain power coming up with them yourself. This time I’m going to talk about how to generate settings. Well, geographic places, at least.
Perhaps your story hops around the world to exotic locales. Or maybe you just want to spice up some characters by giving them interesting hometowns. In either case you need to come up with some places and, if you’re like me, you’ll come up with Paris. Or maybe London. Closer to home it’s likely to be places you already know, too.
In either case you can probably do better.
I suppose if you have an atlas or map you could do the blind finger pointing trick to randomly select a place but this seems more like a job for a computer…
Unlike character name generation I couldn’t really find any online resources that allow you to generate random places. (If you know of any please let me know in the comments.) However, one of the nice things about being a programmer is that I can create such a tool if I want to. Turns out I wanted to so Hiveword now has over 100,000 places from around the world to help make your story different. After all, everybody else uses Paris, right?
How about an example? While you could choose any country in the world (or all countries at once if you favor serendipity) I’ll choose my home state of Maryland in the United States. Here’s a screenshot (click it for a bigger image):
With each click of the Generate button you get 20 new random places. Notice that you’re one click away from seeing that place on Google Maps and Wikipedia. With Google Maps you can instantly see the nature of the place (wooded, coastal, etc.) plus you can dig down into street view to get a feel for it.
With the Wikipedia link you can get a lot of details and a sense of the place especially when there are pictures. I noticed that the pictures are sometimes captivating which is great for when you need to describe the location.
When you see a place you like you can click the “Add Setting” button and Hiveword will automatically build a new setting for you pre-filled with the location information. The Google Maps and Wikipedia links will be there, too.
Finally, there was one unexpected use of the generator — generating exotic names. “Exotic” is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but as an American I find the eastern European and Middle Eastern countries to have unusual-sounding or visually interesting city names. Why do I mention this? Because they are great for sparking your imagination for character or place names in fantasy or science fiction stories. While you may not use the names as-is I’m confident that they’ll spawn some great ideas.
Do you have any tricks for not using the same cliched places?
Photo by pvsbond