Sunday, April 7, 2013
Time Place and protecting the truth in your story
Establish place and time:
Always remember your partnership with your reader—he or she will bring a personal image of people, places and things to your story. It is your job as writer to offer enough specific information about your characters, your houses, rooms, cities or places to make them individual.
You must include enough detail to change or modify your reader’s images to suit the “place and people” you see in your story. Specific details will make it possible for your reader to visualize your images as you do—and give him or her the information necessary to understand and enjoy your story.
Discover the mundane objects and duties of life as they pertain to your story. Use precise details to reveal your physical setting.
Ranchers live out on the prairie or in a valley near water. Your characters might live in a log cabin, a soddy or a big ranch house. They could raise Texas cattle and Spanish horses, but keep a pack of Irish Wolfhounds where your reader might expect them to keep Beagles.
In a modern story place your characters in a high rise apartment or a suburban ranch house with patio, pool and a large dog.
Keep in mind that certain natural markers clearly reveal a setting. For instance, if you mention an alligator, your reader will immediately see the American south, probably Florida or the bayous of Louisiana.
If you mention a Joshua tree or a sere and forbidding plain or trackless dunes, you will transport your reader to the American southwest, the Gobi or the Saharan desert as needed without writing a lot of detailed description.
Modern lawyers often live in big cities; drive expensive Mercedes and visit upscale bars--some of them fly airplanes. Some are women. These characters are all individuals and small physical details set each of them apart and give them the illusion of reality.
If your story is set in a modern or historical time, do the necessary research to make your setting become real to your reader. A good way to accomplish this is to find out and show your reader through action, what sort of food your characters ate and what sort of clothes they wore. It also helps if you can find and use some of their more interesting turns of speech.
If yours is a historical or modern story, use a detailed map of the locale. You will find it necessary to use a good map of your own hometown, no matter how well you think you know it.
Think hard—you may know the names of all the streets in your downtown, but do you know the order in which they appear on the map going from east to west or north to south? Exactly how many blocks is the park from Main Street?
Your research will tell you if cedars, magnolias, sugar maples or cottonwood trees should surround your characters’ houses. Do the necessary research to find the name and description of the sort of grass that grew there in the years of your story.
Remember that alien trees, grass and flowers thrive all over the world today, particularly in North America. Most of them would not fit in a story set in the nineteenth or early twentieth century when one found mostly native species.
Be careful with the weather in your story as well. Check carefully, you could easily make a mistake. Seasons change differently as you move north and south. It can snow as late as May in the high mountains of the American Northwest. It is often hot in southern Georgia in December.
In a modern story, your characters may live in a high-rise apartment or a sprawling three-story brick house with white columns. In other years they might live in a log cabin or even a teepee. Specific and well-researched details of everyday life make it possible for your reader to accept your story as real.