Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sense of Place: Writing Settings

I spent the weekend in New Mexico helping my son and his family clean up after the fires in Los Alamos. I did get to attend a workshop in Taos presented by the University of New Mexico. The subject was “a sense of place” led by author Summer Wood.

We visited the farm of Patricia Quintana. A former Washington D.C.lobbyist, she’s living her dream on the land she inherited from her grandmother. Churro sheep, who were brought from Spain as many as 500 years ago, wander on her fields. She has kept the culture of her ancestors and integrates her lifestyle with land. So how do you incorporate setting into your writing? The main point I came away with is that characters need to be placed into the landscape or the descriptions will sound like a travel log. The “character” can be a human or one example given was animal, perhaps a dog, moving across a landscape. History, food, building styles, and human interface with their environment are all a part of “place.” Examples include nostalgia for a time when the land was in a healthier condition or a desire to profit from development. Summer’s list of books that “contribute something fresh and valuable to the role of place in writing” include:

The Meadow by James Galvin

Home Ground by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney

Mayordomo by Stanly Crawford

Power by Lin Hogan

Wisdom Sits in Places by Keigh Basso

Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Is that “sense of place” important to you as a reader/writer?  How do you write setting so they are more than the physical location of your story?

<posted by Vicki Law, however written by Gail Saunders>

1 comment:

  1. Yes, a sense of place does matter. It gives the story context and depth, but I prefer background to um, stay in the background. A skillful writer can make the setting a single thread in the story she weaves and can seamlessly immerse the reader in it without hitting her over the head with it. The well-known author of a book I read recently was so enamored with the setting of her story, she kept getting lost in telling its history and providing details about the city, and that, I believe, detracted from the story line itself.