Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Sense of Place

My friends live in my house. Actually, they own and live in the home that is the model for Aunt Becky's house in my work-in-progress. I've tweaked the layout a little to conform to the needs of the story, since, as far as they or I know, there are no hidden passageways in their house. Further, in my story, the summer kitchen is still standing, whereas the one that once stood behind the c. 1840s Federal-style brick home was destroyed by a storm years ago, long before my friends bought the place.

With much love and care, these friends of mine have created garden spaces around the property, places to 'light 'n' tie, dream, imagine, and contemplate the beauty of God's Creation, so as I altered the house to suit my WIP, those lovely gardens worked their way into the story.

As important as it is for me to thoroughly know my characters (see blog entry for Sunday, Feb. 14), I should also know the setting inside and out. If I don't have an actual house to reference, I sketch rough house or building layouts and maps of the landscape. Though I'm no artist, I sometimes draw a scene, as well. If I cannot see it, hear it, feel it, smell it, and sometimes taste it--experience it--then I probably will not be able to make it real to my readers. Taking such measures in the pre-writing process helps to keep things straight. In the case of my WIP, the library is on the west side of the house that faces north. I dare not forget that and put it where the parlor is.

Like historical romance writer Ramona K. Cecil, if at all possible, I go to the location that I'm researching--or one similar to it if it is fictiional--and walk the area, listen to the birds sing, smell the air, study the physical features, and feel the earth of that place beneath my feet. Early in my writing, I heard that if western writer Louis L'Amour said that a particular boulder stood at a certain fork in the road, it was there, unless someone had moved it since he visited the place. He ascertained that he knew his setting well. He conveyed that to his readers. Even if the setting is a total fiction, I should be as familiar with it as Tolkien was with Middle Earth and Lewis was with Narnia.

Fellow scribes, to what lengths do you go to know your setting? Click on "Comments" below to share.

By the way, my friends are the proprietors of New Creation Daylilies, located at the heart of a triangle formed by Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Click the link embedded in this paragraph to learn more. I thank them for granting me permission to post some of the photos above. 

8 comments:

  1. Trips to historical locations for my historical romances have proved the most helpful for story settings. I draw floor plan layouts for homes real or imagined. I use period descriptions to furnish rooms for which no historical information exists. Victorian Homes Magazine and Old House Journal help with details. Old newspapers on microfilm add authentic information on what is available in the area through store advertisements. My last three stories were all set in what is now an historic state park. There, I consulted with the site historian in addition to visiting the buildings and purchasing publications about the company town.

    Donna Winters
    Great Lakes Romances series

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  2. Sounds like we think alike, Donna. And of course, it's fun to visit and learn about the various sites and interview the "experts." Though I didn't mention it in the blog entry, I also use such mags, old newspapers, and online resources. Google Earth can be helpful at times, too. Making friends with museum curators can't hurt either. Further, I've found that historical reenactors know their stuff and enjoy proving it. Write on!

    Because of Christ,
    Sharon

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  3. Welcome, Shmologna! ;-)

    Hey, besides sharing a love for the mountains, we also like some of the same musicians: Allison Kraus, Third Day, Casting Crowns, Johnny Cash, etc.

    Write on!

    Because of Christ,
    Sharon

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  4. I love researching settings!

    For one book, I rode with a rodeo contractor and his wife--got to know the back-lot procedures, learn about transport and care of bucking stock, meet the cowboys and watch them prepare, and sit with the clown as he dressed for his routine. It was so cool!

    We also travel a lot, to the settings I plan to use. It's hard to make them real if I haven't been there to se the place and pick up the vernacular!

    Roxanne Rustand
    www.roxannerustand.com

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  5. I love it, Roxanne. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I first realized how important this sort of research is when I was a newspaper feature writer. I called myself a participatory journalist. For example, when I did a story about a boxer trying to make a come-back, I went to the gym with him and did some of his routines. When I wrote about a modern-day farrier, I set up a meeting between him and an old-time blacksmith; then I became a fly on the wall and took careful notes of their conversation. I've crashed family reunions for a series I was writing and pushed myself up to the tables of strangers for another series that featured "roost and crow" eateries around my county. As you have learned, tell them you're writing a story and they welcome you in. Usually. Oh, the stories you and I could share! Write on!

    Because of Christ,
    Sharon

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  6. I'd like to go to the actual settings of my book, but that's difficult since most of my historicals are set on the other side of the world (Japan and India). So the best thing I can do is research as much as possible looking online for pictures, asking people who have been there or lived there for descriptions, etc. I unfortunately don't have the resources at this time in my life to do much more than that.

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  7. Dara, I understand that, which is why I'm so thankful for print and Internet sources, including Google Earth. We do what we can do. Are you acquainted with some Japanese and south-Asia Indian folks? If so, they can be a wonderful resource. In the town where I live, we have an international group, several Latino churches, a South Korean church, an international school, etc., so it would be fairly easy to connect with people of various cultures and countries.

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