Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ~ E. L. Doctorow

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for Location, Location, Location


Readers look to novels to escape reality. An author’s words take them to distant lands. But a well-described location can do more than just take the reader on a trip away from home. It plays an important role in creating atmosphere and describing characters. The strength of location in a story transforms the setting into another character. Characters and setting rely heavily on one another not only to create images in the minds of readers, but also to describe each other. 

A character reveals information about a setting. Their traits lead them to specific towns, cities, bars, schools, etc. A well-developed character personality can create the milieu.

An uptight individual probably lives in a very neat and organized apartment. A character concerned with the environment might have a vegetable garden planted in the back with a recycling bin and compost heap. A young, single girl might feel stuck in family-oriented suburbia.

Now, the same can be said about the location of a story. In the beginning before we meet the characters, one technique of opening a story is to describe the setting. What does it look like? What do you hear? What does it smell like? Are the streets littered with trash, left over food and medicine bottles?

If the character is a child, what impact does low-income environment have on their personality and goals in life compared to a child living in the same city in a penthouse apartment with a doorman?

Is your character in a foreign land where they can't speak the language? An adventurous person willing to do anything to get away from their normal life, perhaps. 

As a mystery writer, profiling a suspect determining how the investigator will find them.

Do you characters undergo a change through the story? If so, a subtle way to accomplish this would be through their living space: neat to sloppy, juvenile to mature, etc.

No matter who the character is the setting plays an important role in creating the story world. Each one reveals something about the other. Together they create a more realistic and engaging story for readers.  

What does the setting of your story reveal about your characters?


Bob Scotney said...

There is a TV programme in the UK called 'Location, Location, Location.' It's all about buying houses. The programmes tell you more about the people involved rather that the location of the houses.
The first time I started a novel (Don't ask whether it was finished) I was criticised for locating it in America and was told it should be aout a place I knew. It was, but thw writing course tutor effectively killed off my idea.

D U Okonkwo said...

Excellent post, and I fully agree. Actuallyknowing the place that you write about it easily, which is why I tend to set my stories in places I know.

Like your comment on profiling, too. Do you watch the drama CRIMINAL MINDS? It's based on a team of FBI Special Agent Profilers who track criminals. Awesome drama - the best of TV.

Anna said...

Love the post-it gave me a lot to think about as I move into the revision stages of the MS.

Sarah McCabe said...

That's one reason why I read and write fantasy. I love a well built world that I can get immersed in.

Nicole Mc said...

This was great, and perfect timing. These things have been on my mind with my wip.

Claudie A. said...

"The importance of location in your story makes the setting another character."

Yes yes yes! I write fantasy, almost inevitably in another world, and location is incredibly important. Sometimes readers remember your world more than they do your story.

Setting has a personality. It mirrors the people who live in it. It influences them, just as they are a part of shaping it.

Karen Walker said...

Oh, I'm struggling with this because my novel (my first after writing nonfiction for 30+ years) takes place in Ireland in pre-historic times. Not sure what there was, what there wasn't, etc. Like soap, for example.
Nice meeting you thru the a-z challenge.

Susan May James said...

Great post and food for thought! I like the look of your site, very vibrant. Will be back for more. Thanks for stopping by Scribble & Scatter!

Josh Hoyt said...

i like this idea of a character. Location is important to understand so that the reader can understand the character better.

Melissa Sarno said...

I love the setting of my novel. It's a fictional place and it's a huge character in the story. Great post!

Dawn Embers said...

Setting is something I need to work on a little more in most of my writing. Some people say they can see it but I wonder how because that is something I have to add in rewrites. I did do a short story that focused on the character experiencing the world around him as he was recalling when he found a dead body. That one was interesting to write.

Great post.

Nofretiri said...

Sure, I've struggled with location, e.g. when I've sent my heroine to a Carribean island and suddenly she stumbled in the wrong direction or found something else on places she's already been before. Then I had to realize, that I simply had to draw a map! But *hmm* I've never thought of that interaction between character and location, how one influences the other! Very interesting thought! I should consider that while editing! Thanks! :-)

Karin @ Nofretiris Dream Of Writing

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