Tuesday, May 1, 2018

A Sense of Place

I knew an architect years ago who designed stunning homes. One day, looking at some of his blueprints, I noticed some scribbles and the words Growy Stuff.

"Growy stuff?" I asked him.

"Yeah, you know... trees and flowers, that stuff. Around the house."

I cracked up. Clearly the house meant more to him than what surrounded it.

But in literature, what surrounds your characters is as much a character in itself as they are. A good writer creates a sense of "place" by giving a book a setting imbued with lots of personality. That often includes the stuff of nature.

My current story is set in Colorado, tucked somewhere between the wide open plains and the Rocky Mountains. Look east and you'll see flat plains with yucca and sagebrush, cedar windbreaks, and deciduous trees planted by early settlers; look west and the land starts to roll, with stands of Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine, the towering front range in the distance. It's wild and barren and a little bit lonesome. The wind constantly blows. All this has become a part of my characters' lives. It's not just a stage setting to hang a plot on - the setting becomes part of the fabric of the characters.

Our blog theme for the month of May shifts from flora to fauna, and the animals in my book are as much a part of the story as the setting. My hero is a cowboy with a large horse breeding ranch, so horses come with the territory. Their interaction with the humans helps inform the personalities. The gentleness of the horse trainer with a skittish filly, for example, might carry over to the way he handles a new love interest who's a little shy and reluctant about love.

My heroine has a cat. She talks to her cat. She takes advice from her cat, especially when it comes to her love life. Don't we all have a non-human creature in our lives that offers an emotional attachment another human can't quite fill? Well, maybe not everyone, but it's a common thing, and a natural inclusion to our writing if we want our characters to seem real to the reader.

What animals do you use in your writing? Are any based on real pets? Or are they imaginary? Perhaps flying dragons? How do you use them to define your characters? Leave us a comment!

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. I featured Old Dog in my last book...and I have an Appaloosa (once known as a Palouse) horse in my wip. They don't talk, but they're very important to the main characters.

    1. I have a horse in every story, it seems! I think it's safe to say there's a little wish fulfillment going on there. :)

  2. My first novel has a dog (malamute), and an upcoming one has a horse, cattle, and a wolf. In the case of each, the animal becomes an important
    contributor to the story.

  3. Are they based on pets you've had in your life, Linda?

    1. I've had dogs much of my life, but no malamutes. No horses. No cows. Two wolf hybrids, one very high percent. She taught me a lot about wolf behavior, which will play nicely into the story.

  4. In my Mythikas series, the island itself, and the creatures roaming it, act as antagonists. Animals play a significant role.

  5. Good post, Dani. Some stories can only be told because of the setting. It becomes as important as the characters.

  6. First, I love your cowboy, Dani. Just from his picture. LOL

    My first attempts at writing were short stories about horses. The one that won the Scholastic Award when I was twelve was about a horse.

    I think it is natural for writers who are huge animal lovers to put them in stories, and in my next post here at BRP, I ask if it is only us animal lovers who are prone to doing that.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.