Monday, February 7, 2011

Location Matters

So there's this world you thought up. This incredibly detailed place where your characters just spring to life and everything blends so perfectly together--it's like magic. What do you do? You grab a pen and notebook, or your laptop, and you start jotting down this fantastic story of course! So there you are, on a roll, the words are flying from your fingers and the characters are coming out just right with amazing dialogue....but wait! Something is missing! You read over your creation and realize that while your characters are great--they are acting out the story line against a blank canvas.

And that's when it hits you. Somewhere between your mind and the page in front of you, the imagery you conjured was lost. YOU know where the characters are because YOU are the one who is writing the story. Unfortunately, your readers are not telepathic and won't be able to read your mind to see what you see. All they'll see are great characters in a great plot with no setting.

In this way, books are very much like movies. What is one of the first things a director looks for? Location, location, location! You, my fellow writers, are the directors of your novels and it doesn't matter what genre you write. Fantasy, Horror, Romance...even poetry--Location matters!

Say you're writing about a journalist (let's call him Jim) living in the Darien Jungle, studying the tribes of the Kuna Indians. He meets a missionary and falls in love. You cannot leave the background up to the readers imagination...that's your job. You need to show them every lucious green leaf, every drop of rain that falls on the roof of Jim's hut as he looks over his notes by the glow of a battered laptop. Wind whips through the screenless windows, blowing papers every which way. In the distance, sounds of chanting fill the otherwise calm night air. Make them feel the hot air, thick and heavy with moisture as he paddles down the river in a too small canoe, in search of the next tribe. Let them feel the angry sting of mosquitos that Jim is slapping against the back of his neck, smell the afterscent of rain, when he first sees her--the woman who will capture his heart.

Or maybe your characters are teens, lost in Bran Castle because they strayed from the tour group in search of something that would prove Dracula really lived there. Now they are terrified, fearing for their lives. Why? Can't you hear the sound behind them? Yes, that whispered cry echoing off the damp, brick walls. Or maybe it's the screeching rats that just scurried by them down the spiraling stairwell, their flea infested bodies brushing the teens bare legs. It sends shivers up their spines and they start to run. The sound of their pounding feet sending an avalanche of sound in the direction of that being--that creature lurking in the shadows. They smell something stale, can you smell that? It's dank and slightly something has been dead for years. Fear turns to panic as they realize the sun is setting. Soon they will be left with nothing but the lights of their cell phones...And really, how long will that last?

It's the setting that makes your characters jump off the page even more. You can have dialogue down to a tee, write the scenes with an intensity that will keep readers riveted--but if you don't build the world around them, it means nothing. Scenery is critical to your story, just as much (if not more) as any other element. Where your characters are can help create conflict or end it. It will give the reader an understanding sometimes, of why he/she acts the way they do. The place you live in, has a lot to do with who you are. Why would it be any different with your characters. But more importantly, making sure you describe WHERE, will enable your reader to picture this wonderful world of yours right along with you.

Even if it is a simple setting. An every day house, with ordinary things--it's still important that you describe the place. Is it a large house? Maybe there is a big backyard with a small pool and a slide some kids stuck in it. Or, if your character doesn't have children, maybe instead of a small pool there is a hot tub where he/she entertains lovers? The possibilities are endless and entirely up to you. That is the beauty of it.

So I challenge you to take another glance at your writing, this time with new eyes. And ask yourself, "If I were a new reader, would I know where my characters are?"

Answer honestly, nobody will be watching you.

Happy Writing!


  1. I love this. Great examples of location and description! I love details like that, and completely agree with how vivid imagery and details enhance a story. Well done, Ree!


  2. Thanks Raven :) I'm glad you liked the blog. I had fun writing the examples heh heh and it helped that I've actually been to those places (the Darien and Bran Castle)
    Thanks for reading!

  3. Such a great post, and great imagery, Ree! So true, how the senses and imagination of the reader rely upon the way things are described. The weather is a factor that I consider most important, the mood it creates can bring an extra edge. And location, for the author while in the throes of writing, can be of great benefit also. There's nothing quite like sitting by a cosy log fire, watching a mist as it slowly rolls in, pen in hand capturing the atmosphere. I find it very inspiring.

  4. I totally agree with you Moana. The weather has a great deal of impact on the emotion that can come from a scene. Thanks for reading my friend.

  5. You know, those challenges you write at the end are great. Great news! I'm picking up a pen again! Yippeee!!!

  6. Thanks :) And good for you! You get to writing girl!

  7. My favorite was the example about the journalist in the jungle. I could totally see it -- him mad at the bugs around him, the sweltering heat, and then just when he thinks it can't get worse...there she is. A vision to behold! Sorry LOL I got carried away :)
    Lovely blog.

  8. Ah, I love it when writers get carried away. No need to apologize. Thanks for reading and please, continue...

  9. Hey, just wanted to drop in and say great article! Sometimes I think a lot of writers forget that the world their stories take place in is as much a living, breathing thing as the characters that inhabit it.

    While certainly, as a writer, you always want to guide the reader's imagination, it is definitely your job to present to them the immediate sensations of the story world in order to evoke a sense of immersion. Again, a really excellent post.

  10. Thank you for stopping by and reading, Diego! Very well put and it is so true. I myself have trouble with this sometimes--which is why I wanted to write on the matter. Hope to see future comments from you :)

  11. Great examples Ree. This definitely helped boost my confidence in imagery--now that I took your challenge. I've got some work to do but I think I'm doing a fairly good job so far.

  12. Good to know you took the challenge and that it's working for you :)

  13. I can't believe you've lived in the Darien! I'm a jungle obsessed freak. I devour books where the setting is just that.
    My problem is knowing how to use the right words to describe what i'm seeing without sounding forced.

  14. Oh it was so much fun in the Darien. I went as a missionary, actually. Ah, yes I know what you mean. I might do a blog that elaborates on this. There is so much more that can come of the topic.

  15. You should publish a journal type book about your experiences there.
    As for the blog post, I really liked it. Informative and just enough funny that held my attention.



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