I really need an updated picture. One of these days...
It’s a dark, rainy Sunday as I write this, and it's a perfect day for snuggling up on the couch with a good mystery. Unfortunately, instead of that I’m writing a story that takes place during a major heatwave. It’s a bit difficult to write about the heat when I’m sitting at my desk, thinking I should get up and start the fireplace. I moved to Washington from Arizona, and I have to think back to what it was like during the summer in Arizona. Plus, the story takes place in Los Angeles.
Location is so important in a book. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve written enough to help the reader “visit” the location. Arizona, Washington and Los Angeles are so vastly different from each other. I can picture the location in my mind, but can the reader?
A lot of things depend on location, location, location: setting up a business, buying a home, planning a vacation, the setting for a fictional story. And when planning where a story will take place, you also have to think of regional issues such as earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, monsoon storms and snow, rain or heat. Even a volcanic eruption can be an issue, depending on where the story takes place.
Last night was quite windy here, and it was pouring rain. I’d just gone to bed when the wind picked up and the roof on the patio began lifting just enough to bang loudly when it dropped. At first I thought someone was trying to break into the house, but, surprisingly, the dogs didn’t react. I hadn’t noticed the wind when I had the television on. I couldn’t sleep and if my characters were in this situation, they wouldn’t get any sleep either. (Lucky dogs slept right through it.)
Your characters are in the middle of a thunder storm? Are there dogs or cats in the story? How do they react to the situation?
Have you ever lived through an earthquake? A hurricane? Don’t write about these things unless you have experience or a good “go to” witness to these disasters.
So it’s more than just location. It’s what the location is like if there’s an emergency. What’s possible at the location you’ve chosen for the story? There are so many details to consider when writing a story. You can research a blizzard, but if you haven’t lived through one you’re liable to get it wrong. At least talk to someone who’s lived through a blizzard, earthquake or something that could be devastating.
Of course, what if it’s just an average day and the weather is great, the air is clear and there’s a pleasant breeze? Be sure to let the reader know that’s what the day is like, but don’t tell them, show them. Let them figuratively walk in your character’s shoes. Maybe it’s nighttime and the weather is comfortable and clear. What might set this evening apart? Maybe the sound of hundreds of frogs croaking. There’s always something to remark on.
The book I’m currently working on involves some homeless people. It’s an extremely hot summer. It’s so hot out you could cook eggs on the sidewalk. In Oatman, Arizona, an historic tourist town, they actually have a contest involving cooking eggs on the sidewalk. Now that’s hot!
Right now I can look out the window and watch the rain fall. I’ve got the fireplace going and the three dogs are lying around the house, sleeping. It’s so quiet – except for the ticking of a clock. If the phone rang right now it would probably scare me out of a year’s growth. Okay, I stopped growing a long time ago, but you get the idea.
I started out talking about location, location, location, but it’s really about details, details, details. Sometimes the little things count, as long as you don’t go overboard with those details.
Now I’m chuckling. Rereading this post tells me that I’m running out of ideas. Or am I?
As a writer or as a reader, do you want those little details to enhance the story? Do you want to feel like you’re walking through a blizzard with the character in the book?
Until next time, think about where you live and the types of things that go on around you. Maybe you’re not a writer, but can you use your imagination and come up with a story about your day (in the rain, snow, or whatever)?
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