Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hearing Voices: The Whispering Trees

Oregon Rain Forest Watercolor by Stephen Quiller
Writers spend enormous amounts of time and imagination creating memorable characters, paying special attention to appearance, habits, speech, and interactions. We try to develop strong and identifiable voices, some so distinct and vital, we don't really need tags to know them in dialogue. There isn't a good writer in the craft who hasn't asked himself the question, "would he really say that?"

Today, as I was writing a new story, my characters spoke to me in crystal clear voices. There was a reason for it. Morning brought a blissfully calm and quiet winter day, the ground muffled in a heavy blanket of wet, gleaming snow. It was a blessed reprieve after several days of intense lashing winds that kept my muse well tucked away someplace safe, while I grappled with a stabbing inner earache from the wicked drop in barometric pressure. Who could write? The weather was like a demon, and that got me thinking about how "place" and all the elements that create it can become a character in itself when penning a story.

A good writer builds a deep sense of location into every story. The land, the flora and fauna, the air itself, aren't just props on which to hang a plot. This tangible place, more than just a setting, can become the underlying pulse of your story. Think about books you've read that take you to another land - to ancient Britain, like Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy, or novels rooted in the deep South. The setting of the story becomes as palpable as one of the characters. Without the attention to that special "character" the story would be diminished, wouldn't it? We can even convey a a sense of refuge in our place descriptions, or imbue malevolence into our plots, simply by shifting the elements of place and giving it a different voice.

How do you create a vivid sense of place in your writing? Do you use an actual location as a model to envision your book setting? Or do you create a world from your imagination? Can your reader see, hear, smell, taste, and feel where they are in your imaginary world? Do you ask yourself, "would this really happen here"?

Share your thoughts and if you can, give an example of an author you think is particularly good at using this writing technique in their novels.

~~~~~
Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, a free-lance writer, developmental editor, professional artist, wannabe gardener (God, can't I just play in the dirt?), and special projects coordinator for Little Pickle Press. You may connect with her at Facebook and at Twitter although she refuses to go online until after lunch.

Bookmark and Share

16 comments :

  1. I read Mystery by Peter Straub about twenty years ago, and another of his, Koko, about ten years ago, and still get that weird feeling of having "been there" and having known those characters deeply even though the exact plots are now more fuzzy.

    Robin Hobb is another author whose books I read and come out of a trance wondering why I'm sitting on a sofa instead of a bunk on a sailing ship.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So very true but I'm drawing a blank. I know some of favorite books are that because I feel I am truly inside the story.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a thought-provoking post, Dani! It's amazing how many people look at a stunning scene and how few see that same scene in the sense of feeling it, touching it, smelling it, tasting it, hearing it.

    Great writers dig beneath the surface to feel the textures of the fabric, take in the aromas, turn over the soil, listen to the breeze as it shares its secrets. Somehow this post brought Rod McKuen's poetry to mind.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Enjoyed the post so much, Dani. Sometimes we forget that setting is so much more than a laundry list of description. One book that came to mind for me is Mystic River by Dennis Lehane. I really had a sense of being there in that story.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I agree with Maryann. Setting does need developed better in most story, but I think authors fear it will drag the pace down.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm reading The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd now and she has me there! I'm swimming in that east coast island water along with her. Another author who creates a great imaginary world in the Hill Country of Texas is Susan Wittig Albert. I KNOW Pecan Springs. I can feel it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. You're right, Dani, that the setting should be a character in the story. I've tried that with my own tales, though with how much success is for other people to say. I think a lot of writers do this well, but Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon jumps right to mind--a young girl lost in the woods with only her transistor radio to keep her company.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Beautiful writing in this post, Dani, to go along with the beautiful picture you chose to accompany it. One of my faves is Barbara Kingsolver, especially in Prodigal Summer, in which her varied settings are absolutely characters in the book.

    One of the great challenges for a memoirist, or novelist writing a setting with which they are quite familiar, is to evoke anew details they've long taken for granted—then use them to support the story.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Kathryn, yes! Kingsolver has it - great example. You're so right about seeing the new-ness in your world to engage the reader. When I first moved to the high plains, I thought it dreadfully ugly land. But there is no place like the wide open flats for sky operas - if you can imagine the color pink singing - that's pink sky country for you.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Yes, it's very important to make sure the setting is right for your story. That's why I had to look up such details as when the sun rises and sun sets for my locale in Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. I didn't want to say it was dark out when it wouldn't be yet.
    Also, the temperature and chance of snow in winter is much different in the same state, if you're in Scottsdale, rather than Flagstaff. Those are some details readers will pick up on if you get it wrong! It pulls a reader out of a story if they know the setting is wrong for the action taking place.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  11. But it's more than those details, Morgan, though they are part of it. It's the underlying spirit of the place that has energy, and conveying that is a challenge, but creates so much added depth for the reader. It's another rich layer of meaning.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Another one for me is the Harry Potter series. Hogwarts is very much a character in the books, and I still remember the thrill I felt when I first experienced the school's quirks along with Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Yes, another good example, Elle. Tony Hillerman's land comes to mind, too. And Linda is right - there is something poetic in the voice of nature.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Dean Koontz is good at making setting a character. It's a difficult thing to achieve when you're first starting out, because just plain description doesn't do it.

    So far the setting for my books have been Montana and I grew up there, so it's innate.

    ReplyDelete
  15. A story without a vivid setting is like watching a scratchy black and white Television set.

    ReplyDelete
  16. These blogs are such good reminders. I do feel you have to be careful that you don't spend too much time describing things that pull the reader out of the story.

    ReplyDelete

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...