Where I write

Where I write

June 18, 2012

Setting is Essential to Story

I live in the desert. Well, not actually right in the desert. I live in a Phoenix neighborhood with street lights and sidewalks and a bus stop. I often go hiking on this trail just a few miles from my house in a city park. (Looks a million miles away from a city, doesn't it? But it's not.) I understand and respect the desert because I've lived in it now for some 25 years. As a writer, I feel comfortable setting a scene, or an entire story, in the desert because I know first hand that saguaro cactus flowers are white and snakes like to slither and hide beneath sagebrush in the cool of the evening and it's essential to drink a lot of water if you intend to hike in the warmer months. I can write about the desert, set an entire novel in the desert if I choose, and not feel as if I need to google information every ten minutes in order to be accurate.
I'm not as familiar writing about an environment such as this cove (is it a cove?) in La Jolla where seals like to hang out. I have to pretend more to understand the place. Now this is where it could be either stressful or fun to be a writer. I tend to not want to be wrong about what it may or may not be like to live in a certain place.  I trust writers and don't want to think they don't truly know the setting they are placing their characters. One of the best parts of reading is being taken to new places without having to buy an airplane ticket. Flying isn't as fun as it used to be. Can you believe they don't even give you a pillow anymore for free?

Anyway, as a little girl,  I read and re read  the Little House books by Laura Inglass Wilder. She took me on an adventure far from my Midwestern suburban home, with its identical streets with duplicate houses, and put me on a wagon on the prairie with ma and pa and her sisters. Not that I would actually have wanted to live where you had to wash your clothes in a tub and cook every meal over an open fire, but it sure was fun pretending I was right there with Laura as she did. I want to take people into new worlds, too, but I find I need to have actually been to certain places to feel as if I can write about them.

I grew up in Chicago, but never spent any time in these fancy high rise apartments by the Chicago river.  No I was more interested in dating guys with long hair and no jobs. Dumb! So, because I liked men who rode Harleys instead of men with briefcases, I  have to really use my imagination on what the inside of one of these Chicago apartments might feel and look like. Does the apartment have marble floors, a hot tub and expensive art work? What does Chicago look like from the 50th floor? I bet amazing!  Speaking of the number 50, the author who wrote Fifty Shades of Gray had her main character Christan living in some fancy digs. I imagine she had never actually been in a "red room of pain" which plays a big role in the novel. Surely she had to make that up, or maybe not, and if she didn't that's more information than I need to know about the author of a book. Okay that's enough about sex and back to setting.

If I set my story in this little red cabin, I would want my readers to know what it is like to be inside this cabin during a long Rocky Mountain winter. It's actually quite cozy. Well, I wasn't there for an entire winter, but I was there for a week or too, and I can let my imagination do the rest. Right now it's 113 here in Phoenix ,and I think I should start writing about this little cabin right now and how it felt to see snowflakes the size of half dollars falling and covering the world in white. That should cool me down.

I find I'm unable to write about places where I haven't actually been or lived. Not all writers are like that as there are some who can write about just about anything with authority and realism. I'm not that savvy which gives me a perfect reason to want to travel all over the world so that I can write about places with accuracy. If nothing else....a darn good excuse to travel. Basically most writers, even if they travel to exotic locations to set their stories, end up being in the very same place as I am each day. At home, in front of their computer, all by their lonesome, writing, pretending they are somewhere else.


Rita A. said...

What a wonderful cabin. Those snowflakes would be nice today but I still prefer the desert. Keep on writing about writing. I enjoy your outlook.

C.B. Wentworth said...

I love how writing sometimes forces us to explore a setting that is unfamiliar. It's fun to dig up those facts or travel somewhere to get a true feel for the place. At the same time, I love "playing" with a place by adding things that aren't really there but could be. :-)

Fairday Morrow said...

What a great post about settings. I like to have experienced a setting before I write about it. Otherwise I am not really sure if I am capturing the feeling of the place. I love the pictures you used. :)


Karen C. said...

Loved the story.

SunsetCindi said...

Guess that's the fun part of writing about made up places as you only have had to visit them in your own imagination, but I'd like to travel to places also to get the feel for them. Love that cove, I remember going there with my children, it was delightful. Heard you can't go there now as it's protected because of the seals.