Place Settings

aka researching….digging… Before I start writing, I amuse myself (for days and days) by surfing the web and printing pictures which I then pin up above my desk. At the mo’ there is a map of the Vegas strip, a photo of some sunning seals, a painting of a selkie, more maps of cape breton island, the welsh coast and the northernmost coastal area of california, a few foggy pics of seashore and fishing village. I especially like to print maps. They have always held a fascination for me even when I was little and used to get terribly car sick (which must have been such a bore for my traveling parents) and used to amuse myself in between projectiling by looking at the names of small towns and making up stories about the people who lived there. Now I have google and a printer and can capture and enlarge random chunks of land at will. I always have a pretty good idea of where the action in my book will be set. But I operate visually so… The printing of maps. I always do it. Even if the place in which I am setting my story is imaginary or a completely new take on an actual location. So if I’m writing about a devastated New York, then geographically it still has to be accurate. It has to make sense even if an earthquake has shifted Central Park over a few miles, leveled the George Washington Bridge, or flooded Greenwich Village under twenty feet of muck. Just seeing the shape of the existing structure lets me superimpose what I’m seeing in my imagination, and then mapping it out means I won’t forget what my MC can see from their tent or their bedroom window or the top of a tree. It also—I don’t know makes the place more real. Means I can put myself there and smell the smells, feel the breeze, hear the suck of a tidal river, slog through a salt marsh barefoot. My current WIP (although it is a mere babe at the moment and hardly deserving of the name) has some crucial juxtapositions: city girl + tiny village, desert+ coastal, urban life+ near-luddites, modernity + magic. It’s all aswirl in contrast. I want my heroine to be a fish out of water. Ha ha ha. Sorry, I find that really funny. And no, it’s not a mermaid tale (tail). Ha ha ha again. I have a window in my office. Which if you must know is a tiny desk in my bedroom. In my new house I will have a whole room, and a view out over the ocean. This is the plan, but the actual house is still an unknown. I can say with certainty that there will be an ocean, but not whether I will be able to see it. I look at a bookshelf. The window is to the right. But it is east facing and the sun casts a glare on my computer which is distracting so usually I have the curtains closed. Plus I would only be able to see my car and the neighbor’s fancified (and slightly annoying) two-story house. Hello, simple country living here, folks. It’s ostentatious to have two big stories, humongous windows and a wrap around pine porch which faces my bedroom. So I look at the pics I have pinned to the shelves and that’s how I daydream (and plot). Much of the detail doesn’t make it into the book of course- endless descriptions would slow things down and bore the reader–but just a taste, so that the reader can join me and the characters in ‘wherever it is’. How much time do you spend placing your characters in a setting? Any? None at all? Are you unconcerned about such things and just want to get to the action?

6 thoughts on “Place Settings

  1. Nice post, Jo. How long do I spend putting my characters in a setting? Months. And I visit, if I can. Even if it's an invented place, I would go find the same type of scenery, if possible, that I was putting in the book. A forest or whatever.
    I like your maps too! I do drawings.

  2. Excellent post, Jo. My current WIP opens in the Indian Ocean of all places and so a map is my friend right now as well. My last was set in Barcelona! (Some day I am going to make things easier on myself by writing about the place where I actually live!)

  3. Kath (if I may call you that?) I day dream about my settings for ever before deciding roughly where to place the action. I would love to visit and travel around scouting. That would be my dream. Actually northern England, Scotland, Ireland,Cornwall, Wales….those would all work. Perhaps I could stay with Nicola Morgan??? Although she terrifies me.
    If I coud draw I would do that too but alas it's the color printer for me.

  4. I wrote a short story (with Feltus from my MG book) based in my current hometown of Woodstock, NY, although I called it Woodstick so none of the old hippies still living here could sue me for some gentle irony. I draw from my childhood home and places I have visited, and I'm sure I'll be inspired when we move to coastal Nova Scotia this summer. Although I write broadly within the fantasy genre I really like to have a real base to work off of. Sort of like an anchor I guess, and then I feel free to deviate as wildly as possible.

  5. It's behaving itself very nicely, Jo! My biggest problem – and this is an issue I have had for a while – is that I struggle to write sympathetic female characters. Great males I can write with abundance, so my peripheral females need more attention to stop them from turning into total bitches!

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