Friday, February 12, 2016

Creating Place

Place.  I really hate trying to figure out how to bring a place alive in my stories.  I like for them to feel like they could happen anywhere and especially in the reader's backyard.  This happened for me recently in the book "The Last Kind Words" by Tim Piccirilli.

I could so picture this story taking place in my neighborhood and then he'd mention that the characters were on Long Island.  Now, for me, Long Island is that fancy place I see on TV in shows like Castle or Royal Pains, so I was immediately thrown out of the story.  Of course the writing is so good that I'm pulled back in but that little pull got me thinking about place in a story.

Some writers can do place beautifully like James Lee Burke who gives you all five senses full of place.  Other authors think they need to drop you onto specific streets and then take you on a traffic detour.  I live in PA where a detour around here is ten to twenty miles long.  I don't want to hear complaints about driving over and up two blocks.

Thinking about these two different ways of creating place in a story made me wonder if a sense of place is more important than actually being in a specific place like Chicago or New York.  And do I really want place to be "character" in my story?  I love the way that Southern writers give you that sense of the South without using actual city maps.  I can taste the food, feel the sun on my face, and actually understand how Southern characters think and believe.  To me that's the best way to put place in a story.

I read a great example today in Joe E. Lansdale's short story "Deadman's Road".  He brings his little slice of Texas horror alive in two sentences.

"The road was narrow and of red clay.  It stretched far ahead like a band of blood, turned sharply to the right around a wooded curve where it was as dark as the bottom of Jonah's whale."

How I wish I could write like that.  But getting back to place - what authors satisfy your craving for place.  Do you need the city streets or does simply having a feel for a place make a story work for you?


Charles Gramlich said...

I think place is so important to writing. And it is hard.I tend to prefer wild or imaginary places to real places. I'm often distracted by mentions of actual streets or places. I like it when, say, a story evokes the sense of a small town without being an actual small town I know.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It really depends. Sometimes the story or the characters are so strong they could be plopped down anywhere without much discussion. For my own writing, I try to have a sense of place because my plots are almost non-existent.

sandra seamans said...

Yes, Charles, I tend to combine pieces of places I know into one small town rather than use an actual one.

Yes, that's exactly how I felt about "The Last Kind Words", Patti. Perhaps that's why it jarred so much when he'd mention where the story was set.