I mentioned the importance of cultural immersion in the previous post, and given a recent development I thought I’d elaborate a little on that; in particular on the importance of creating a genuine Location (or Setting) in your writing, and how to do it convincingly.
I’ve recently been inspired by local Virginia Beach 18th and 19th century history to work on a third book in the series started by Hollow Thunder. Something that is crucial, to me, is to fully understand and experience the environment in which your story lives. This involves going there if it has been inspired by a real place, and Experiencing it. Only through legitimate Experience can you portray a legitimate Setting. Readers are much more likely to stick with your story and to sympathize with its temporary reality if they can envision themselves in it; isn’t that why we read, down at the heart of it: to transport ourselves into another realm, another life, another existence? So serve your readers well and discover the tangible details that blur the distraction of the feel of the paper in their hands, the weight of the book on their lap, and whisk them away without their even realizing why they feel like they’re simply returning home and not discovering a brand new world.
First hand details are key, and are best when learned first hand. To that end, I worked as a costumed interpreter on the historical streets of Williamsburg. I have Experienced that city in all the seasons, at all the times of day. I know how it feels, smells, sounds, and looks to live in 18th century Williamsburg; and by infusing my novels with little sensory details here and there my readers are given the tools to mentally fly to that time and place. My otherwise incredible characters are made much more approachable and believable because their Location is genuine. Of course there is a werewolf living among the townsfolk as a hatter. Why not, when everything else is so very normal about the town?
I have been given the rare opportunity to step foot in several historical homes in Virginia Beach, and next week I will get to immerse myself in Pleasant Hall, the key location for the sequel to The Loyalty of Dew, itself the sequel to Hollow Thunder. Late in 2016 I hope to gather the funds to travel to the Orkney Islands and Experience the places that star in Civil Dusk, my upcoming third novel anticipated for release by 2017.
The presentation of your first hand details is as delicate a process as presenting aspects of the characters in your story. It is best done gradually, and can be as subtle as interjecting a word or a phrase with each action that your main character takes. For example, if I were to tell you that “William slogged down the sodden street, his thoughts as cold as the water that seeped between the manure-caulked cobblestones”, you are immediately cast into a sympathetic opinion of William. You don’t yet know that he’s a bigoted hypocrit who will kill someone later; right now, all that matters is he’s clearly miserably wet and cold, and everyone can relate to that. But you know more than that: you also know that the street on which he’s walking is frequented by horses and is paved in an old-fashioned way. In one sentence you already have a mental picture building of the world in which William exists. You are inclined to feel sympathetic with William because he is already relate-able, and you might suspect something of his motives. Why are his thoughts cold, you may wonder?
If I only told you that “William walked down the street, his thoughts cold”, most readers would only wonder “So what?” They’d put the story down and go do something else, and never turn a second thought to William. But by inviting the reader into William’s world with sensory details, they become involved and engaged with the story. That’s what makes readers keep reading.