Musings on what influences the setting / environment of a story

When you have to go to the bathroom particularly badly, the sound of running water is the last thing you need or want to hear. (Well, unless you’re in the woods and will be needing to wash your hands afterward. Or if you are in a public restroom and require a little sensory input — a little encouragement — before starting the flow.)

Went for a walk yesterday, and the sound of running water was the sweetest thing I’d heard in a long time. Months, actually.

Today, raindrops pattering and splashing added themselves to the symphony that is nature waking up. Cold and damp, sure, but a welcome change of pace. Rain helps the melt to hurry itself along. It’s not perfect timing — a highway just a few hours to the south was washed out — but I’ll take the rain over more snow.

Fellow writers, do you find that it’s easier to write scenes that take place in certain weather conditions or climates if you actually live in or visit those conditions? Or is it easier to research and rely on imagination?

For example, a few summers ago while I was working on Blood and Fire, I was doing a lot of the writing in the summer, basking in the heat of the sun and enjoying the scents and colours of my backyard. It was fun, at that time, to think back on the winter. Nostalgic, even. Romantic, too. But the snowmobiling story I’m currently working on also takes place in winter, and as we’re just coming out of it, I feel as though I’m rather venting my weariness of being cold and snowbound. In fact, I find myself wondering why I didn’t decide to write about being some place hot and tropical, if only for the temporary mind-escape.

I do think that writers should travel as much as possible, especially when researching a locale, in order to get a real sense of a place and be authentic in sensory details and description, but how many of us can afford to do that? More often than not, imagination and research in the old-fashioned way has to stand-in for hopping a plane or driving the distance to the setting of the book. That can be frustrating in some ways. I read about writers who get to travel, and I feel more than a little pen-envy, but such is life, right?

Here’s another thought: if you can’t afford to travel, and you don’t want to research a place, is it cheating a little bit to set a story in your own regional backyard?

Of course, that leads me to wonder whether we really choose the stories we’re telling. On some metaphysical level, sometimes I feel like the stories are already out there, waiting for the right teller or writer to latch onto them or provide a conduit. And therefore, deciding to write about a place you’ve never experienced previously becomes less of a choice and more of a commitment. A journey, even if it’s in words alone.

I don’t know if I’m making any sense. I’m very tired and going to bed shortly. But as I’ve been working on this snowmobile story for Camp NaNoWriMo, changing the original timing from February to March and as I said, using my current combination of animosity toward and enjoyment of winter to fuel the setting and plot, I find myself wondering how differently this might compose itself had I started it in June or July, sitting in my backyard, rather than buried behind four walls and waiting out the siege of ice and snow.

Journey with me in Placing Literature!

Journey with me in Placing Literature!

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PlacingLiterature.com enables readers to map the locations of books set in real towns, cities, parks, etc. This month, my work has been included in their spotlight! 

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The setting of the Talbot Trilogy is based on the real town of Cobalt, Ontario. Clicking on the bookmarks in the map will take you to the locations that inspired key events, characters, and places in the series. I write about places I love, so it’s a real privilege to make these places visible to you as well. 

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Throughout the month, I’ll be adding to my virtual tour of the places used in Wind and Shadow, its prequel novella Mist and Midnight, and the locations coming up in Book Two: Blood and Fire (coming February 12) and the final instalment, Book Three: Crystal and Wand (coming summer 2014). I’m looking forward to your comments along the way!

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