ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

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Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Insecure Writers Support Group - Creating a Sense of Place


It's the first Wednesday of the month - that means I've been in Fiji for a month (gulp - where did the time go?) and also time for the post for Insecure Writer's Support Group. Click on the badge above to go to lots more posts.

Today is also the Bombshell Launch Party for blogger Madeleine Maddock's ebook, Ultimate Sacrifice. I'll be doing an interview with Madeleine on Monday 6th August. For the full schedule, go here. Good luck Maddy!

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Today let's talk about creating a perfect story (I wish.) But at least we can try to get all the elements we need...

Stories we write are anchored in a specific time and place. That doesn't mean shutting your eyes and jabbing a pin on a map and deciding you'll set your story in the Arctic Circle. No, your story is an entity, and as well as having that story idea, those characters already popping up demanding to be included, you have to have your story and your characters set in the right place.

Think about some of our favourites...can you imagine Wuthering Heights anywhere else but on the wild gothic moors of Charlotte Bronte's 19th Century Yorkshire? Could Oliver Twist be set anywhere else but Dickensian London? Thinking modern now - can you separate Janet Evanovitch's Stephanie Plum from her Trenton, New Jersey roots? What about Alexander McQueen's lady detectives? Don't they just work in Botswana?

Now your mind is racing along and you'll be thinking of your favourite stories - yes, their sense of place is all-embracing. It encompasses not only the physical, but the socio-economic, the cultural, the physical, the language, the politics, the weather, the mood of the place. (And if you're writing fantasy and you're creating a whole world, you need to think about all these things too. If your world boasts triple sun, you've got to know how that affects the people, the seasons, how the shadows are cast.)

"Place...makes the characters real...themselves...[Place] never really stops informing us...it is astir, alive, changing, reflecting, like the mind of man himself." Eudora Welty.

Travelling helps to find that perfect merging of place, characters, plot. As we travel we see the unique, the ridiculous, the different, the quixotic...we see stories everywhere, at least I do.

While cruising the Fiji Islands (sorry, lovely image isn't it?) I came across this unique sight - Fijian locals serenading arriving travellers to their island, Mana Island. Amongst the melody-makers here's this white guy, terribly-bad sun-scorched skin. What's he doing here in this incompatible climate? He looks happy, joyous even. Great story. I've got to write it...And why don't the Fijians wear hats in the boiling hot sun? (Generally it's a cultural thing - insulting to the Chief. Once you could have been cannabilised for just wearing a hat or touching the Chief's head.) I'll tell you, I got quite a headache walking around a Village with no hat on...


  • What about you? Do you think place in your stories is terribly important?
  • If you write fantasy or sci-fi, do you spend ages world building, getting it right?
  • Do you enjoy stories with a great sense of overall place, where it all comes together?






36 comments:

  1. You've been in Fiji a month? I'm so jealous. :)
    I'm obsessed with world building. I keep spreadsheets to make sure I do not merge outside the rules of my world.
    Good luck with the release, Madeline!!

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  2. Like Ciara, I am jealous of you! A whole month in Fiji ... and Nas here in America ... the world is all a'kilter! Sherlock Holmes to me will be London. In like manner, my Victor Standish and Sam McCord will always be haunted New Orleans.

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  3. I write modern-day sci fi and gave up on creating new worlds long ago. So I stayed with modern day Boston and southern California as my setting. The establishments are many and they are real, so this reality is as real as real will get in my book. Hope that made sense.

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    1. Yeah, it does. I think you're saying you write about what you know. D.

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  4. Woohoo! Congrats to Madeline!

    I love creating a sense of place, and I tend to set most of my stories in places I've been to - mainly London - because I really feel them.

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    1. And then your readers really feel them too because you've immersed yourself in London.

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  5. Hi, Denise,
    Congrats to Madeleine on her release.
    Place is so important for me that I remember to make it a character in my stories. Didn't know about cannibalism on that side of the world. So much stuff to learn. I bet you have even more stories to tell.

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    1. That's it, Joy. So much to see, learn, and so little time. Am off to stay a night at Manu Island tomorrow night so might meet Mr White Guy.

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  6. Sure, a sense of place is important. Sometimes the "place" takes on the aspect of a character itself, which can get really interesting.

    I tend to write very spare, without a lot of detail, but I still find a sense of place just in the writing--the shadows of the three moons, tiles underfoot, wind whistling through the spaces in a cave. Place doesn't have to be obvious to create the sense of reality.

    Lauren
    Lauren-ritz.blogspot.com

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    1. You already hook me with your descriptions, lol!

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  7. I love reading books that provide wonderful details about places and their cultures, whether I'm familiar with them or not. One of my favorites is Colin Cotterill's mystery series set in Laos and including Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam. I have never been to these places, but now have a sense of their culture and natural environments that I didn't have before. Love that.

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    1. I haven't read the series. Now I must. One of my favourites for creating place is Pat Conroy and how he makes the South a character. I read and re-read his books, especially Beach Music.

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  8. Fiji!! I am so jealous right now. :) Seriously, sense of place is as important as plot or character. It what gives your story flavor, makes it real. these are wise words and thanks for sharing.

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  9. LOL! He really is out of place.

    My YA series is set in the South and I've been to all of the locations - Greenville SC, Atlanta, Gainesville FL, etc. - so I knew what the area was like before I wrote. Many of the locations in my books are real.

    And thank you, Denise. I will try to work harder on those helpful posts.

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  10. I don't spend an inordinate amount of time on place. I like to connect my setting to the emotions of the main character and take it from there. I hate paragraphs on end of setting and details. It has to be grounded in the action and emotion of the story to be both relevant and interesting enough to keep reading. That's my 2 cents.

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  11. I spend way too much time on a sense of place - even for contemporary writings. I research an area until it feels natural to write. Things like common (local) names, demographics, work force, tourist spots. Any famous people.

    I'm still working on my fantasy settings, but world building is even more important there. A lot of work, but I find the research interesting. sometimes it adds different ideas to the story concept.

    I'm glad you get to travel about exotic places and build a sense of place through experience. I agree, your prompt begs a story to be written. But be sure to enjoy the rest of your time in the islands.

    .....dhole

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    1. As you know Donna, I've taken out all the stops. Just returned from 2 luscious days on an island and am preparing to head for the Wild West, lol. D

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  12. Bless you for the shout out Denise. Awesome!
    Yes I agree, place is important in establishing the setting for the characters. :O)

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  13. My dearest Denise,
    Even though I do not write on the same level like the others, I enjoy reading the comments and feedback on such interesting topics. Personally, I can write about love in any place and time. All I need is my simple imagination (smile). Have fun in all you do my very special friend.

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    1. You're right Andy. Love is its own place, but setting certainly enhances a love story. D

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  14. I probably need to spend more time getting the setting right!
    Dude in the hat looks so out of place.

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  15. Place is so important! I do spend a good amount of time building my world. Geography, politics, healthcare...all that stuff goes into play.

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  16. Excellent post Denise, thank you :-)

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  17. Hi, Denise.

    LOVE THIS! As you are well aware, my writing is VERY detail oriented and PLACE is VERY important for the overall feel of the story. I am a combo of both you and Donna, I travel a lot and us my experiences AND I do tons of research to give authenticity to my writing.

    As for WORLD building,again I use many references from REAL forests/parks I have traveled through to create as realistic "other" world.

    How cool that you were/are able to basque in such exotic lands. My travels lately are in the south US, lovely as it can be, it is NO Fiji islands.lol

    Thanks for your supportive comment on my post. I am glad you liked my story. You had read it ages ago. It's so much tighter now. IT does help to leave work for a year or two and then go back to if for more tweaks.

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    1. I loved what you'd done to your story Michael. Yes, it got better after you set it aside. I agree, you do love your descriptions of places and they always sound authentic.

      I just got back from 2 lovely days on an island. Was awesome in so many ways, culturally as well as for the beauty.

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  18. Awesome photo Denise, I'll bet you've got a whole heap of stories stirring that will be set on tropical islands now. Looks like a gorgeous place for a story (and of course my mind immediately thinks, what a great place for a murder).

    Hope you're having a wonderful time, but hope to see you back in Brissie soon :)

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    1. Well let's take murder one step forward - I'm dying to try my hand at cannabilism.

      So looking forward to being back with the 'gang' in 2 weeks,but I'm torn. Who'd want to leave here other than Tom Hanks, lol!

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  19. Hi Denise! yes I think the setting makes the story. If done right, it can carry the plot along nicely. Just as a soundtrack does for a film. :)

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  20. I do write scifi and fantasty and I LOVE world-building. My current WIP has had so much thought behind the creation of the world and it impacts the characters and their stories in a big way.

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  21. A month in Fiji wow, wish I was there with you. Think I am an insecure writer which is why I just stick to my blog! Take care Diane

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  22. Hi Denise
    Great post. Oh yes! I think I lived in my imaginary world for awhile. I always shut my eyes and felt myself turn all the way around before any description could be written of Gil-Lael.
    Nancy

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    1. That's why Gil-lael was so convincing.

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  23. The best stories for me are definitely one where the setting is a character all on its own. I wish I could travel more.

    Beloved Husband and I have done a couple of cruises, but I never feel like I get a feel for a place in six hours. We're always so rushed to squeeze in as many sights as possible. Not time to sit back and soak it up.

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  24. Setting and characters seem to come far more easily to me than plot. I have a lot of trouble with pacing and conflict because I think I relish the character dynamics, dialogue and world-building to the exclusion of drama.

    But as my grandmother told me, it's not a story if nothing happens!

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Please take the time to share! I love hearing from you! Hit me with your wisdom!