Tip 1: Salmon
If you're going to write a novel set in the Northwest, you're going to have to mention salmon. But don't make the common mistake of simply referring to salmon as "salmon." You know the varieties; show off your grasp of local nomenclature! Consider the following opening sentence:
Lance Nakayama was calling his broker to dump his InfoSpace stock when he was almost struck by an airborne Chinook.
See how we were able to pique the reader's curiosity while displaying our intimacy with regional wildlife? This is the kind of opening sentence that keeps a reader turning pages. A flying what? Where the heck is this taking place? They will want to read on!
Tip 2: Setting
Always, always, always include a couple scenes at Pike Place Market. Yep, that's where our protagonist almost got hit with that flying Chinook. Everybody knows about the market and those darn fish throwers. Once readers realize where the scene takes place, they'll really feel like they've been transported to the Great Northwest! If you want to stress the cultural sophistication of the region, you can set a scene at Benaroya Hall. (Mention the Chihuly chandeliers.)
Tip 3: Technology and industry
Notice how our sample opening sentence contains the name of an information technology company? It never hurts to refer to a handful of these companies in any novel having anything to do with Washington State. And remember: Biotech is hot, hot, hot! A tip for intermediate writers: Try combining salmon and technology. Perhaps there's a technology company whose headquarters is threatening a precious salmon habitat?
Tip 4: Strong-willed women
We all enjoy robust female characters in contemporary novels. But it takes a gifted writer to turn a cardboard feminist into a breathing embodiment of the Northwest woman. It never hurts to depict female characters driving forklifts or herding livestock, but if you "roughen" the exterior of a female character by placing her in a blue-collar situation, you must provide balance by giving her at least one advanced degree. An example:
Cleaning the stables that morning, Dr. Cecilia Gonzales Mossington enjoyed the pungent aroma of llama urine. Why? Because she knew that the hormone it contained was the key to the breakthrough pill she was developing at the biopharmaceutical company she founded down the street from the Pike Place Market.
You can apply this same strategy to create male characters. Just combine blue-collar grit with graduate-level education, add a Y chromosome, and you have yourself a credible Northwest male character!
Tip 5: Weather, personified
Here's a trend-setting idea (that I'm offering to you for free): See if you can draw interesting parallels between your characters' inner selves and the famously mercurial weather of this region. Having characters interact with weather, particularly rain, is the ticket to making them thoughtful and important-seeming. Without characters who are reflective and rain-soaked, where exactly are you as a fiction writer? Answer: nowhere.
Tip 6: Trees
Every so often, have your characters stop what they're doing to describe the experience of looking at a tree. Be specific! For instance, the way the sun drapes ringlets of gold upon the boughs of an amabilis fir. It's important to always have your trees interact with the weather. As with characters, this makes them more interesting.
Tip 7: Gateway to the world
You have to find some way to incorporate issues of global importance into your novel. This is vital, because it tells readers who don't live in the Northwest that there's actually really important stuff happening here, okay? You want to capture the attention of that sophisticated New York reader who isn't all that interested in salmon or trees or--
Forget I said that. I was kidding. Everyone is interested in reading about salmon and trees!
Tip 8: Boats or cancer
This one's a tossup. Do you want to feature boats or cancer in your Great Northwest novel? Because you can't feature both. That would be going overboard--pun intended!!! However, you could potentially have someone on her boat thinking about a cancer drug she is on the verge of launching at her Lake Union biotech company. If you decide to go the cancer route, make sure whoever is dying of it goes into the woods and gets rained on or looks at trees or catches salmon, perhaps with her bare hands, as part of a cleansing ritual learned from a couple of biotech-ignorant Native Americans. (Name the tribe.)
Tip 9: Oregon
Oregon is a good source for radical politics. (There has to be a little rioting in your opus for it to qualify as a Great Northwest novel.) So include a couple of edgy characters from Oregon. Pick a radical character type in column A and pair it with an Oregon location in column B. Next, make a list of likes and dislikes (that is, what kind of coffee they drink) to develop these descriptions into fully dimensional characters.
Tip 10: Add intrigue!
So you've developed some deep-thinking, tree-watching, cutting-edge-drug-developing, tech-savvy characters and set them loose in a Northwest setting that's instantly recognizable. Then what? Easy. Just add intrigue. Nothing will put your Great Northwest novel on the New York Times bestseller list--or at least get you a favorable review in the New York Times Book Review--like a healthy dose of corporate espionage, infidelity, double-crossing, and maybe a chase scene on a ferry. Or a priceless carved whalebone that has suddenly gone missing? Oh, the material you have to work with as a writer from the Great Northwest.