Whether it’s the country in which your whole story takes place, or a small boat where just one conversation occurs, I’ve learned that the setting can make all the difference.
There are lots of options open to authors of fiction, even more for those of science fiction or fantasy, and yet when I’m enthusiastically scribbling down a first draft I still have to remind myself not to always necessarily go with my first idea. When coming up with a scene I now ask myself:
Does this scene (for example, an argument between two characters) have to have to occur on the living room sofa?
If so – fine, but what if they were actually on an aeroplane, or a remote mountain top, or in a shop selling lingerie? Would that make the scene more interesting/dramatic/awkward?
As Ra’s al Ghul says to Bruce Wayne in the film Batman Begins:
Always mind your surroundings.
As a starting point it is generally easier to write about places I’ve been to, or have experience of. Three of my books are set in Wildham, a fictional town somewhere north of London, but the town of my imagination is based on bits and pieces of real places – the market square, pubs and coffee shops – that I know well. Similarly Southwood’s Garden Centre, which features in Safe With Me, is fictional, but based on personal experience. My aunt and uncle built up their own successful nursery and garden centre from nothing, and I worked part-time in a garden centre for several years. I know first-hand the relaxed satisfaction of planting up hanging baskets; the tedium of dead-heading endless trays full of bedding plants, and the hours spent watering pots in the heat of the summer.
But for me the most exciting aspect of choosing a setting, is the opportunity to introduce somewhere I’ve always wanted to experience myself – it gives me the perfect excuse to go there. The roof-top garden cafe that appears in Safe With Me, was based on my visit to the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden Bar & Cafe at the Southbank Centre in London. I wanted to find a little oasis in the city; a metaphorical bridge between the greasy spoon that Rina has spent years working in, and James’s plans for a semi-rural idyll in Wildham. By going to the location myself I could soak up the atmosphere; make notes on the way it looked, smelled and sounded, and take photos to aid my memory. I could also sit there and mentally conjure up my characters; imagine what they might think or say, and picture how their body language might betray their feelings. I fear I must look a little crazy at times, when I’m focusing inwards and listening to my imaginary friends – ahem, I mean characters – but I try not to let it stop me.
Of course much of this ‘research’ doesn’t feature in the finished book, but hopefully it informs the writing and makes the world I create, more immersive for the reader. What do you think? Do you agree? Do let me know. And if you get the chance to visit London in summer, I would highly recommend the Southbank.
NB – This post was first published exactly a year ago by the wonderful Sharon of Shaz’s Book Blog – thank you Sharon!! The original post can be viewed here: http://shazsbookblog.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/the-write-stuff-with-grace-lowrie.html