Places inspire me. I love to travel. But I also love to fall into a book and explore many different places through a story. If I can’t travel in real life, then I’ll travel vicariously through a good book that brings to life an interesting place and time.
All this stopped cold when I went to university, feeling pretty much confined to one single place — deep in the stacks of the library. The academic experience was stimulating in other ways, just not for my fiction. It actually stifled my creativity.
About a year after emerging from the library stacks, I finally got to travel again and experience something totally different from my academic work: the beauty of Oregon’s forests and mountains and rugged coast. It wasn’t research. It was just… for fun! After that trip, I went home overflowing with inspiration to write creatively. Now, I have learned that I have to periodically renew my well of inspiration with regular trips that include nature’s beauty.
So, what do I take away from this?
Wikipedia describes “sense of place” as “…often used in relation to those characteristics that make a place special or unique…”
Even if you don’t know the characteristics of a place that make it special, no worries. You can still write with authority about your setting. You can still give a wonderful “sense of place” that transports a reader if you remember three simple tips:
- Details. Use telling details that define a place, rather than generic detail. For example, aspen instead of tree. The more specific, the better.
- 5 Senses. Besides what the place looks like, what does the place smell like? What are the sounds? What do the things you touch there feel like? What do you taste?
- Character. When your character moves through his/her setting, responding and interacting with it, both the character and the place will come to life.
And what if you don’t know a place well enough to find the telling details or answer those questions about 5 senses? The worldwide web is a wonderful resource for armchair traveler researchers. Sometimes we just want to stay home.