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Posts Tagged ‘Settings’

In real life, you probably feel thousands of things without even thinking about it: the chalkiness of a washing tablet, or the roughness of a cheap pair of jeans, or the greasiness left on your fingers after eating a cake.

In writing, feeling is meaningful.

Now, I appreciate that may seem a huge generalisation but as a reader do you expect everything a character physically feels to be described?   I am sure the answer is no.

So the next question – why does a writer choose to describe something?

The writer has to make decisions about what they believe adds something to the story.  If you read that a character is laying on a bed, it tells you very little.  If you are told he is laying on clean Egyptian cotton sheets which still hold the scent of a summer breeze, you learn something – he is in a comfortable, homely place.  If you read he is laying on a gritty, grubby, sweat-stained mattress where he can see the fleas jumping on and off his skin, you know he is somewhere down at heel, possibly dangerous and certainly not somewhere he would aspire to be.

How things feel has a big impact on the reader’s understanding and our job is to give the right information to lead them down the path we choose.

There’s also an element of character that can be built through feeling: from the extreme e.g. Nathan in the TV series Haven who couldn’t feel anything until he was touched by the woman he loved, to the more everyday experience of Grace’s rough working hands in Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace which were a result of her place in the world. 

And of course it’s part of setting, which continues to be my focus.

I am currently reading with this concept in mind as a way of exploring different stylistic choices.  For me as a writer, the key is to use feeling to add detail to a scene.

As a reader, I don’t want to notice the technique, only be drawn into the story.

Having both elements in balance is the skill I am trying to hone.

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

 

 

 

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This week I was intending to focus on setting, which I have, to a degree. I’ve thought about spaces, locations, elemental/environmental factors, and I was getting on with that relatively well.

But today is snowed, and although I have weather in my notes it made me think I have been a little too prescriptive.

I have the weather as an environmental factor either enclosing a space or impacting on the experience of an external setting.  Standing outside in the snow I realised it is more than that – it is about safety, or danger, comfort or discomfort, enclosing people in the setting of their own bodies, seeing nothing but their own breath or blinding them with brightness.

I will focus now on the wider experiences of setting and how it impacts on the physical body and the emotional and mental experience.  That will be the task for the next week.

Meanwhile, I have also found myself doing something I haven’t done for a long time: writing down ad hoc conversations between as-yet undefined characters.  It’s those weird little conversations that run through your head when you are inspired by something you see; those little moments that somehow spread out into an entire scene in your head.  I am keeping records of them so I can use them once I have finished my work on setting.  Maybe if I have enough, I will be able to link them like spiderwebs and they will make a whole story!

So although I missed an element I am glad to have the opportunity to continue working on it.  I’m pleased I have given myself time, as well – it’s taken me back to the basics of writing, and thinking more deeply about what to put on my page.  I feel like I am working at my craft, not just throwing ideas on a page and seeing what sticks.  It’s a good feeling 🙂

I hope your new year is going well too!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

 

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As I have decided to use Thursday posts to reflect on my writing generally, I am going to use these Sunday posts to focus on one element.  For now, anyway!

You may have heard the quote ‘nothing happens nowhere’, attributed to Eudora Welty, or as an alternative Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘nothing can happen nowhere’.

These two quotes are a starting point for my next challenge.

 

During one of my courses, the idea of setting as a part of plot was raised – and I remember long ago reading something along the lines that location is another character.  We have to remember its features and foibles just as we do with the people we create.

But how can you choose somewhere?

In my work, it’s generally instinctual: I feel if a scene needs to be set inside, or outside; if it’s a cosy bedroom or a dank, overgrown woods. I trust my characters to put themselves where they need to be and I follow in their footsteps to see where exactly we all end up.

That’s not to say I have no choice, of course; but that as a writer I might know I want a scene to take place covering specific interventions or unveilings, but that I don’t know where it takes place until I have got to that point.

My very first scene in my family tree novel is in a bathroom.  The choice arose from three elements: the need for the character to be alone and aware of their body; a clock, which was important in setting out some bigraphical details of the character and her background; the ability for the character to show frustration through activity in a way that met points 1 and 2.

I have faith in my choices through that story, as each represents an element of character and experience.  However, I need to work more on this in my current planning.

When developing my ideas from last year into a better, more tangible, more cohesive story I need to work on setting, and this is going to be my writing focus for the next week or two. I want to keep my settings cliche free – or if using a cliched setting do it with a knowing wink to the reader.

I can of course use places as I have done before – as a basis, a sound foundation on which to build my fiction.  Or I can create a new environment, free of human intervention, or I can do something in between.  Who knows what it’ll end up being: the only limit is my imagination.

So next week I’ll report back on what I’ve learnt this week and how my aims have progressed.  Maybe I’ll even have a new world to share with you!

 

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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This week I’ve put pen to paper on the new book. The research is coming together slowly and I’ve started to build details on characters, settings, the building at the heart of the story and so on. Each step is little but they’re building into a good background so that’s important.

I like a good resolution to my mysteries but I am playing with the idea that this book will remain unsolved – that is, the outcome could be one thing or another depending on how the audience deciphers it.  The story is sufficiently tied into two different interpretations to make that a realistic proposition.

I have been told that this inconclusive approach is the core of Henry James’s book The Turn of The Screw so I’m putting that on my reading list for next week.  If I think I can make it work after that, I will go for it!

I considered this approach with the last novel so it’s clearly something that appeals to me; my failure to make it work before is a little off-putting but if it can work this time, I’ll know what to do with the last book so it might be a double benefit!

In other news – We’re up to book 28 of the 100 novels, New Grub Street by George Gissing.  It’s one I have no idea about at all, but the subject sounds pretty interesting for us writers so I’ll look for a copy to read.

Also, on a related subject – I’ve long known that my 100 wouldn’t match this list.  However, trying new books and reading so many writers I’ve never tried before has been really enjoyable and I think I’ll do a 52 book challenge every year now!

And finally – I saw this video of Hugh Jackman and I love him so I had to put it on.  I know it’s not about writing but it’s a reminder that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously!

Happy writing

EJ

🙂

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I haven’t got much to update you about as I’ve been on a writing hiatus since the middle of last week preparing for and then going on my mini break, so this post is really just about something that inspired me.  Just pretend today is Thursday 😉

While I was away I got to see some beautiful things. A gorgeous castle – still home to a very lucky family; an imposing cathedral; sunshine at the beach (hurrah!) and the remains of a Roman villa.

Of all these places, it was the Roman villa that grabbed my writerly attention.

Walking on a floor that was laid nearly 2000 years ago gave me a great sense of responsibility for the past – to tell the stories of the people who were there before, who walked those same stones. To imagine the lives those people lived.

Some of the mosaics laid down were incredibly intricate, and even featured the ‘signature’ of the craftsman who created them.  There were tiles imprinted with the footprints of animals and – on one – a sandal. There were areas where the floor had collapsed so the heating system could be seen.

The villa was probably extremely opulent, and owned by people who were important back in the days of the Roman Empire.  But it was clear that it existed because of many other people.  Immediately I wanted to write about the people who had made it what it was.

That was the exciting thing, to me – the story of the villa was not of the people who had once owned it but of those who built it, who shaped it, and who marked their work with a signature of tiles.

This is like writing in a way – especially as writing can outlive its creator – but it also made me think about what I write, and why.  It made me think about the setting, and the construction of the worlds in which my characters live.  It reminded me that setting is a character in many ways: it has its own history, relationships, physicality.  It has its own way of reacting to change.

It exists in a story not just as a backdrop, but as part of the experience the characters have of life itself.

So there you go – another piece of history that grabbed my attention and won’t let go.  I sometimes think that history is offering itself up as a subject for writing, and I hope to one day do it justice.

I’m leaving other news for this week, as I haven’t had a chance to do much research, so I’ll have an extra for you next week!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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