Two weekends ago, I participated in the delightful Tucson Festival of Books. While on a panel with Karen Joy Fowler, Margaret Erhart and Daniel Stolar, we fell into a discussion of the importance of setting and sense of place. We all expressed surprise and frustration at the lack of setting details that sometimes show up in the work of aspiring writers. I have developed entire workshops on teaching this subject and hit it hard in voice classes. Over and over, I have seen an understanding of the principles of setting kindle a breakthrough for a young writer.
What surprises me is that this is least requested subject of all my areas of teaching. Sense of place is often considered to be a secondary concern, when if fact, I strongly believe that a novel cannot be great without a powerful setting. Get setting in place, and all the rest falls together. Setting is about detail, about weather and landscape and the personalities spawned by those places.
What are your landscapes as a writer? What places speak to you? Do you know?
Often, the landscape that spawned you is the one that will enhance your work most powerfully, but sometimes we fall in love with another place, and that works, too. Megan Chance, who is a native of the Northwest, does fantastic work with historical New York City, for example, and a great many historical romance writers fell in love with England early on, and have spent their lives delving into that setting.
More often, it is the landscape of our lives that we understand most clearly. [Read more…]