Friday, January 13, 2012

Where in the World?

When searching for that perfect place to live -- whether a house, condo, apartment, perhaps a house boat, log cabin, tree house -- what do you look for? A certain style? A specific number of bedrooms, bathrooms, does it have an attic, basement?? What is the most important factor for choosing an abode other than the price? $$

Location, location, location!

Is it the property, the schools nearby, the dog park down the street?
Is it your hometown? Or someplace other than where you grew up?

Is it the magnificent view?

As a writer, don't forget to include the all important setting in your story.

In creating fiction -- characterization, plot, conflict, theme, style and pacing, the beginning, middle and end -- are all extremely vital to any story. However, if the reader doesn't know the setting of the novel, we can't visualize the story.

There is no sense of place.

In the past couple of years, I have been helping to judge and critique several writing contests for unpublished writers. Some are experienced writers with wonderful skill, some have amazing potential, some are just beginning their long and challenging journey of learning the craft of writing.

What surprises me most in these works is the lack of setting. I estimate 80% of all manuscripts I judge, no matter the experience of the writer, overlooks this fundamental element. Location. Where does the story take place? And why? I feel they don't grasp the fact that setting is an integral part of character development. It is an essential aspect of their background. Why is the main protagonist living where they live? Or why have they moved to a new town? City? State? Country?

Be specific when introducing the setting. Many writers simply make it easy on themselves and the reader by telling up front where the story takes place.

Chapter One
May 1990
Wilmington, Delaware

This is perfectly fine if it fits the tone and style of the book. If an author can't weave the actual date and location into their story, it's okay to let the reader know where the novel begins.
However, the setting still needs to be introduced and described in some way. Where and why in Boston? What is the weather? Is it morning with bright sunlight? Or early evening with a luminous full moon rising?

Most authors write what they know. I grew up in Massachusetts so many of my stories feature a location somewhere in New England. I have also lived and traveled around the U.S. and other countries and feel I can confidently portray these other locals in some way as well.
It isn't necessary to have traveled to whatever location you set your story, but you best have a strong sense of place when you set your characters down in the middle of that preference.
With today's technology advancements, and with just a click of a button, we can research geography from around the globe.

Still, if your characters are hiking through the Amazon jungle, you better know how to convey what it really feels like to do this. What kind of trail are they on? What are they wearing? What does the air smell like? What do the trees and foliage look like, feel like?

Perhaps you have created your own mystical world, a place unique and different from all of our everyday lives. It is essential for the reader to visualize and to feel the same human emotions attached to these unusual settings. Think Hogwarts from Harry Potter. Middle Earth from the Lord of the Rings.

And the setting is as equally important to convey if you set your book in your own hometown. You know what it's like to walk or drive through the town, but how does it look and feel to your protagonist? Your antagonist? What are they thinking as they step into the local coffee shop? How does it look to them?

We need to feel the emotions of the characters as the tale unfolds. Create your story, and the locations you choose, to feel as real as possible to you, your characters, and your readers.

Happy travels! :)


Laurie Smith Murphy said...

I love this post, Cynthia! Great insight and information on the importance of setting. I agree. It's an integral part of any good story. A sense of place paints a picture for the reader and lets them feel at home in the story. Bravo! Love the pictures, too!

Cynthia Sherrick said...

Thanks for reading , Laurie! :)

Dell Smith said...

Nice to be reading your blog again, Cindy. And I think I recognize a Lowell street scene in there.

Great post. Location location location. If the writer can't answer all those questions you pose (how does a place smell and feel, etc.) than the reader certainly won't care about the story.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

Yes, that is a street photo of Lowell. :)
Thanks for reading.