Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A tale of two stories

Vicki's post about the importance of getting the setting correct got me thinking. I have always been a big believer in walking in the footsteps of my characters, so I could infuse the story with the real-life and often unexpected sights, smells, and sounds that they would experience. As Vicki says, not only does it add realism to the story but it helps to draw the reader into the magic. My Inspector Green novels are set in Ottawa, a city I know well after nearly fifty years here, and yet I always visit the specific locations I put in the novels to make sure I'd captured all the detail. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), this usually entailed a half-hour car ride.

Not so my Amanda Doucette books, all of which are set in different locales far from my home. Newfoundland, Quebec's Laurentians, and Georgian Bay. At least these could be reached by car, so I could throw my bags, my notepads, and my dogs into the car and set off to follow my imagination. The Newfoundland drive took three days, but it was entertaining.


But the next two in the series are planned even farther from home, necessitating a plane ride, a car rental, and a kennel for my poor pups. I can only afford to make one trip there, so I have to make the most of it. Ideally I would like to visit while I'm still at the "glimmer of an idea" stage, knowing the place itself will give me unexpected and unique fodder for my imagination and for the story I create. But if that trip gives me the idea, I won't know all the details I don't know I need until I am deep in the writing of the story. Normally that's when I would make another trip, but this time I will have to rely on books, the internet, and helpful friends and contacts. It's not the same as walking in the footsteps of the characters, but it will have to do.

Visiting the location gives you so much more than the smells, sounds, and sights of the place. It gives you the culture, the people, and the way they see the world. It gives you a glimpse of what moves them, angers, excites, and saddens them. It give you an idea what they celebrate. All this molds that "glimmer of an idea" into a story and enriches its development.

I am currently working on the third in my Rapid Reads Cedric O'Toole series for emerging, reluctant, or just plain busy readers. It's in an imaginary village, its setting left deliberately vague in the books. There is a wonderful freedom to writing about an imaginary place. I don't have to check police procedure or Tim Hortons locations. I can rearrange geography without anyone calling me out. I put farms and roads and lakes wherever I want.


Despite this, the setting is very clear in my mind, because I use the area of Eastern Ontario where my summer cottage is located. All the sights, smells, and sounds are vivid to me, as are the culture, the people, and the issues they care about. I think this is the key to inventing a place; use a real-life place (or two) as your blueprint, and the vivid detail will help to draw your readers in. And then put the churches and lakes and bars wherever you want. Just remember where you put them, for the next book.

1 comment:

Jean Steffens said...

Great post