Writing Sense of Place

To order The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life

I’m trying something new with today’s blog – posting the agenda for a workshop I’m teaching tonight on Sense of Place: Bring Your Settings to Life.

Think of place as nothing less than the stage on which your subjects or characters enter, take the spotlight, enact their part in the plot or story, and exit. Place and setting are the most important background components of any narrative, poem or essay – fiction or non-fiction. Sometimes, place becomes the foreground through its relationship to a character or subject. Countless great books have centered on specific places or groups of places; many others have created descriptions of location that are unforgettable. If reading is partially a matter of disconnecting from the world around us and entering another world (real or imagined), then place/setting in a book is nothing less than that other world into which were entering. How we perceive that other world is up to the author’s descriptions and characterizations.

How important is place and setting to a writer’s overall approach? In my book The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, I devote more than 75 exercises to different approaches to writing place and setting, in part or whole.

All of which makes writing good settings, landscapes and locations – with a mixture of character, color and precise detail – extremely important.

I’m going to write more extensively about each of the sections below in the next few blog posts, so wanted to show the overall workshop presentation as it will be delivered to attendees this evening:

IMPORTANCE OF PLACE AND SETTING: Establishes location/stage of story; creates color and texture for your narrative background; reflects pace of narrative; reflects traits and preferences of characters

HOW PLACE WORKS INTO WRITING: Often becomes a character or central figure in itself; gauges or dictates mood or tone; interrelates with characters; works hand-in-hand with plot; becomes the center of the universe into which you’re taking readers

EXERCISE: Think of a favorite location or place that you frequent regularly. Could be home property. Identify two or three characteristics that make the place so special. Write about those characteristics and how you interact with them. Write essay or narrative.

ATMOSPHERICS: Writing the outer limits and inner breath of your story’s world. Discovering and integrating specific elements of a place or setting that connect to your characters’ senses and sensibilities. In non-fiction, the aspects of place or setting that feed into the event or person on which you’re focusing.

ATMOSPHERIC EXERCISE:
1) Identify your geographic feature (river, lake, ocean, etc.)
2) Write as many synonyms for feature as you can
3) Why do you connect so completely with this feature? How does it make you feel? How does your mood, perception, vision change?
4) Write about a direct interaction between you (or character) and this feature

THE BREATH OF LANDSCAPE: Understanding the sensual relationship between yourself, subject or character, and place – and converting it to living, breathing narrative
1) Personifying the landscape – imagery, simile, metaphor, alliteration
2) Use of extended metaphors to blend character and landscape/setting
3) Use of very specific nouns and verbs to drive specific images
4) Merging movements of a place with the character’s movements

WRITING PLACE INTO INNER WORLD OF CHARACTER OR SUBJECT
1) The anchor of fiction and narrative non-fiction
2) Understanding of subject’s relationship to place – and how place defines the subject
3) Working with senses
4) Connecting outer observations to inner perceptions

EXERCISE:
Write an essay, poem or vignette in which a subject/character has a direct experience with a place or setting. Describe how the place/setting affects the character, both internally and externally. Note colors, moods, contours, time of day, landmarks, that relate to the character’s relationship with both the experience and the place.

WRITING PLACE EVERY DAY: Putting yourself in the center and writing outward.

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