Monday, September 28, 2009
Places that Resonate
by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
Watching the first episode of Ken Burns' new documentary series on America's National Parks I was struck not only by the beauty of the American wilderness but also its profound impact on people - and how that impact helped redefine a national consciousness. This got me thinking about the role of landscape and place in my own writing. I've blogged about this issue before but in my current WIP I'm interested in exploring the interaction between characters and the landscape portrayed.
I think evoking a landscape serves more that just decorative, thematic or descriptive purposes - I think it also helps reveal character. In my latest WIP when I considered the setting of my book I looked at a number of questions about such as:
How do my main characters feel about the landscape - are they at home or are they outsiders?
If one or more of them are at odds with the landscape - how can I use this to reveal inner depths or hidden aspects of my characters?
If landscape is to be a character - how will its mood evoke a sense of place and set the tone for the book?
How can I avoid cliches about the landscape and try and discover either a new perspective or a hidden sensibility that can add texture and dimensionality (hmm...is that even a word) to the book?
After watching the first part of Ken Burns' documentary (and after camping at the awe-inspiring Crater Lake a few weeks ago) I have a renewed respect for the joys of writing about the impact of landscape not just on our lives but on our souls. I'll be dusting off my copy of Landscape and Memory by Simon Schama and wrestling with all sorts of philosophical ruminations on the significance of landscape - but don't worry I haven't forgotten the most important maxim, never let landscape get in the way of a good story.
Some of the best thrillers and mysteries use a strong sense of place to establish mood, progress plot as well as reveal character. But what do you (as readers and writers) think should be some of the key considerations that an author should take into account regarding landscape and place? Are my questions on track or should I chuck my romantic sensibilities aside and consider something else?