Tag Archives: location

Location: truth or fiction?

It’s been another hard week of editing Part Three of The Big Smoke, but I’ve managed to get through another 25% (or 13,600 words) and I’m feeling quietly confident I’ll have Part Three ready for my beta readers by my revised deadline of 12 December (fingers crossed!).

While reading Part Two, one of my beta readers asked me about my choice to have my two main characters, Seb and Ceara, come from fictional country towns in rural Queensland. My answer: I didn’t want to say they were from real country towns and then have people from those towns identify things that clearly didn’t fit with their town (from scenery to slang words).  The only country town I know intimately enough to write about is Gatton, my home town. But I didn’t want either of my characters to come from there because I didn’t want readers (particularly readers who know me) to think the story was auto-biographical (because it isn’t).

That was my original rationale. But after my beta reader asked the question, I’ve been revisiting the decision in my mind. I know that I really enjoy books that have real settings, particularly if I’m familiar with those settings. But do I enjoy them more than books with imaginary settings? I’m not 100% decided, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t think it’s a huge factor for me. I mean, I love reading books set in Brisbane, my current home (like Nick Earls’ The Fix and Ian Wynne’s Gavel), but I also enjoy reading books with fictional-but-still-realistic settings (like Christopher Currie’s The Ottoman Motel).

I’m keen to hear your thoughts. Does it make a difference to your enjoyment of a book if the settings are real or imaginary? The Big Smoke is realistic fiction – does this make a difference? Meaning, are you happy to read about imaginary settings in fantasy but not realistic fiction? Or does genre not change your opinion?

Also, many of my settings are real (like the city of Brisbane, where most of the book takes place). Would you prefer settings to be consistently real or imaginary, or does that not matter to you? And finally, do you think it would be worth the extra research involved to have my main characters come from real country towns or do you think fictional-but-still-realistic settings are good enough?

I love hearing other readers’ and writers’ opinions on things like this, so please let me know what you think!  🙂

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Filed under Beta readers, Progress update, Tangled

A strong sense of place

During the recent Brisbane Writers Festival, I attended a workshop called Turning Where into Who: Character as Place. I found the session quite insightful and I thought you might be interested to hear what I learnt…

According to the workshop facilitator, Australian author Ashley Hay, a vividly realised location makes a dramatic difference to the power of your writing. Some stories are so steeped in their location, if feels as if they couldn’t be set anywhere else, and the location becomes a character in its own right. That is the kind of fiction I want to write. I want my locations to feel so real that my readers forget where they are and begin to see, hear and smell everything my characters do.

Crocodile Adelaide River

The subject of my dreams... (Click for image source)

Contemporary authors who do this well (in my opinion) include Bryce Courtenay (with Africa and outback Australia), and Belinda Jeffrey (with the Northern Territory). The mood of their locations filters into every scene and you feel as if you’re right there in the location with the characters. When I was reading Jeffrey’s coming-of-age novel Brown Skin Blue – about a boy who works on a crocodile-jumping cruise boat on the Adelaide River – I actually dreamt of rivers and crocodiles, such was the power of the book’s setting.

But obviously, it’s a lot easier to identify authors who do this well than it is to bring your own settings alive. One piece of advice from Ashley that I found particularly useful was this: remember that you’re not trying to document a place, you’re trying to capture it. So you needn’t feel obliged to catalogue everything your characters see or hear in order to convey place, just the telling details. And if you’re using a real location, you needn’t feel compelled to adhere strictly to reality. You should feel free to imagine real places. If a fictional touch brings a real place to life, then allow yourself to go with that.

And of course, there was the piece of advice that is age-old but oh-so-true: rely on your senses. Don’t just consider how a place looks, but also how it sounds and even how it smells and feels. According to Ashley, touch is one of the most under-utilised senses in fiction, and it can be amazing for capturing place.

As I edit my novel-in-progress Tangled, I want to scrutinise how well I’ve captured my settings (Brisbane and rural Queensland) and hopefully make these locations as important to the book as my characters.

I’m interested in your views on setting – does it make a big difference to your reading experience? Would you choose whether or not to read a book based on where it was set? Do you prefer real or imaginary settings? How do you rate your own skills at capturing place? What books/authors do you think do a fantastic job in this area? Please share. 🙂

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Filed under Writing, Writing craft