Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Places We'll Write About

Here?

Or here?

I've been thinking about surroundings lately.  My own private space says a lot about me, and it's made me consider how important it is, therefore, to describe a character's environment a novel. You can learn a lot about him from the setting in which he is placed.

You know how it is when you buy a red Toyota, thinking you're all unique, and then every other car you see on the drive home is a red Toyota?  It's the same with what you think are original observations. Rhys Bowen said that when she begins a novel, she often doesn’t know the complete cast of characters, who’s going to get killed or how, or who did the deed, but she knows where the story will unfold.

The very night before I heard Rhys say this, I was reading  P.D. James’ book on writing entitled Talking About Detective Fiction, and came across this :  “My own detective novels, with rare exceptions, have been inspired by the place rather than by a method of murder or a character."    She then describes a moment when she was standing on a deserted beach in East Anglia.  She could imagine standing in the same place hundreds of years ago, until she turned around and saw a nuclear power plant, and “immediately I knew that I had found the setting for my next novel.”

Ms. James also observes that : "When an author describes a room in the victim's house, perhaps the one in which the body is found,, the description can tell the perceptive reader a great deal about the victims character and interests.

Setting is important to characterization.  Even if the murder unfolds the same way in two novels you'll have two very different mysteries if the victim is killed in a beach house in Thailand or in a prep school auditorium; if the suspects live on deep in the moors, or in Manhattan across from Central Park; if the detective lives in a fifth-floor walk-up on the south side of Chicago or in a mansion in Beverly Hills.

If Miss Wonderly had walked into Spade and Archer Detective Agency on the first floor of the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, The Maltese Falcon just wouldn't have been the same.

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