|On morning walk, March 2014|
The sky was magnificent on my walk the other day (glad I had the camera with me!)--and for some reason it seemed to draw me into my surroundings in a way I hadn't experienced before. Thoughts began to flow. Suggestions whispered. Possibilities for connecting dots in my story leaped forth. What fun. I didn't know "they" lived over there! Who would have guessed "that" character's house was just around the curve? And the pine grove between the two? Turns out, it's begging to be included, too.
Of course, the actual setting in my story will be fictionalized, but my, how my neighborhood is helping me "see" it. I can pretend I'm walking in my character's shoes as she lives, struggles, fights for that which is most important to her--all while being drawn into the drama and misfortunes of the times in which she lives (it is historical fiction, after all).
"If you're lucky," writes Elizabeth George in Write Away, "the place in which you live is a place that resonates with you. If that's the case and if you can remain alive to and aware of the details that make that place unique, you should certainly consider using it for a setting because you'll more than likely be able to render it and not merely report it."
This works for the writer in me that immerses herself in an era of history. But what about the writer who builds her own world, fictionalizes a setting far different than her own reality?
It's all in the details. As Donald Maass says: "The great novelists of the past and the breakout novelists of today employ many approaches to setting, but all have one element in common: detail. A setting cannot live unless it is observed in its pieces and particulars."
Alex, at Write World, contrasts the advantages of real locations vs. fictional settings in his article, "Location, Location, Location: The Fundamentals of Choosing a Setting." In it he says, "There are two sides to setting: logistics and soul. If a character gets on a specific bus route, it's probably a good idea to research if such a bus actually exists, but this is only one side of writing about setting. The part that is infinitely harder is understanding the spirit of location, what makes it tick, what motivates its citizens, and how this culture matches your story. Whether your place is real or made-up, this will be your greatest challenge in writing setting."
"Real location" writers and "world builders" have more in common than not.
Additional tips on setting come from Moira Allen's "Four Ways to Bring Settings to Life" (at writing-world.com) where she suggest we reveal setting through motion...a character's level of experience...the mood of your character...the senses.
And what about the writer's own setting--the place in which we actually write? Take a look at Joy Lanzendorfer's Writer's Digest article, "5 Writing Lessons Inspired by Famous Writers." Ms. Lanzendorfer garnered inspiration by visiting the homes of such writers as Jack London, William Faulkner, and Emily Dickenson. A sample:
"In 1879, Robert Louis Stevenson stayed in a hotel in Monterey, CA, after traveling from Scotland. He didn't write anything of note while there, but the scenery, Spanish influences, and a local legend about buried coins later went into his most famous book, Treasure Island."
What has inspired your settings? What locations have influenced you? Do you draw from real places or build your own worlds? And have you written out of homesickness as Joyce Carol Oates suggests, or drawn from the deep well of imaginary places?