'By selecting and highlighting aspects of the setting, and using the power of words to evoke atmosphere and sensations, writers can bring readers closer to the action and provoke responses in them.' - Gary Disher
Disher goes on to say:
'Skilful fiction writers can evoke settings in such a way as to signify the feelings and personalities of their characters.'
Evoking a sense of place is my favourite element of creative writing. Even as a reader, the novels I connect with most (Salt Rain and The Lambing Flat to name a few) have a strong connection to place. The authors of these novels would fall under Disher's definition of skillful writers' because the setting reflects the personality of the characters.
Beyond that, good setting is represented using all the senses and selective detail, making the reader feel like they are in that place and it's the most natural setting for the characters.
For this reason, I'm a huge fan of novel research and field trips. This week I've been getting back to nature (again!) and rediscovering the setting of my first novel. Here are the places my research has taken me:
Fossicking on the Moreton Bay foreshore
with my daughter (a buddy writer!).
Visiting my local council library, second hand book store and the Wynnum Manly Historical Society
searching for specific details, historical context and natural history.
Of all my discoveries, I'm particularly drawn to understanding the botanical names of flora and fauna. Perhaps my two years of high school biology wasn't completely wasted!
Connection to a place
While research can form the basis of creating a sense of place, I believe you need to have a connection to a place in order to write about it. It may not necessarily be a place you have lived in, but it needs to resonate with you in some way. Perhaps there's a childhood or family history connection, or it could be a new place you visit that you fall in love with.
When you bring that resonance to your writing there's an open curiosity to explore that place in more detail and really get feel for it's landscape - across all the seasons. It's also a place you'll probably want to visit again, which can only strengthen your knowledge (and writing) of that place.
Drawing on memories
The reason I write about coastal towns is because I've lived in these areas most of my life. Even when travelling through Europe, I followed the Mediterranean coast.
Some of my most vivid childhood memories are the sound of the waves rolling onto the shore at night, collecting cowrie shells on the shoreline from Pottsville Beach to Hastings Point and swimming, fishing and shucking oysters off the rocks in Pottsville Creek. I'll never forget the salty, metallic taste of fresh oysters as they slide down your throat.
Beyond these experiences, there's an understanding of the composition of a coastal community and how it differs to urban or rural life. Perhaps that's why writers are often told to - 'write about what you know'.
5 writing exercises to get you started:
- Write about the world around you
- Write about your favourite season
- Write about your environment
- Write about local history
- Travel writing.
Quote reference: Disher, G (2001) Writing Fiction: An Introduction to the Craft, Allen & Unwin, NSW, pp 133 & 134.