‘TIS THE SEASON TO GLANCE AT A MAP OR TWO
There are just a few more days in this year, 2017, and I’ll be taking an hour or so to pull out my files (yes, paper files) that remind me of ways to select and develop the setting of my novel. However, since I want to encourage you to do the same—or begin building your own resources files/books—I’ll share a few ideas that have helped me in years past.
- A very wise historical fiction author once told me to “start grabbing maps of the locations you’re considering using in your story.” He when on to say that the physical map is important because it “grounds the writer on earth.” (Not all my stories are on earth, but discussing that is for a different blog).
- Maps will not only help us hone in on a specific location (or two or three), it will also show us the who the “neighbors” are. This may be of great importance in developing the mindset of our characters.
- Once a general location is selected, take a closer look by either using an Internet search to view the land and/or contact the USGS, or local librarians to discover more about the town or village within the time-period of the scenario you’ve selected.
ANOTHER AVENUE of research for settings is to watch movies that have been set in similar locations. I love this method because I can combine personal enjoyment with “technical” research. For example, the movies Gone with the Wind and ROOTS are perfect for the study of plantations and “The South” of that historic era. The authors of the original novels wrote with such passion, developing such depth in their characters that Readers could almost taste the dust of the land in their mouths. This concept—of describing each setting so that Readers can taste, smell, see and feel the environment—is a huge benefit to Readers. (Touchable settings create a great fan club, too.)
THEN ADD a new resource book to your collection. Recently, I was introduced to a book title Black Vignettes by Rosalynn Shropshire-West. It is a collection of essays of African American History and Culture written with a seamless blend of fiction and non-fiction styles. And what strikes me most positively is that it informs me of people, events and culturally significant topics not found in ordinary U.S. history books. This author did her research, and understands the “setting” of each time-period. Some may wonder why someone would write (and then publish) a 600-page book these days. I, for one, am blessed she did, formatting it into brief essays that are easily picked up and read independently of the previous piece. This will be a resource on my shelf for years to come as I know it will enrich the genealogy research into my own family “roots,” where I’ve discovered living cousins who are African American.
Over the writing/publishing centuries there have been seasons when the general “rule” was “less description—more concrete fact.” I have never been a supporter of that thinking because it takes the essence (the heart) out of the writing. Historically proclaimed author, Anton Chekov is quoted saying, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Simply reading his quote has, I’m certain, created a visible image in your thoughts and possible a hint of the story that you could produce from it. Such is the great value of setting our scenes with clear, visual and tactical preciseness.
Be encouraged, dear writer, as you approach the close of 2017 and gather bits and pieces of the setting(s) for your book(s). May this become a yearly, December, plan and process, tucked into all the fun you’ll have with family. ⚓︎