Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Sense of Place

On the way back from my writing retreat over the weekend, I had thirty minutes of driving time (in the dark, in the middle of Nebraska) to contemplate my sense of place.

The town where we held our writing retreat is very small - 1700 people. Of course, I grew up on a farm near a town of 1600 people. I'm used to small towns. But I felt a sense of isolation in this particular town that I don't feel back home. But maybe that's just because it IS my hometown.

I'm beginning to realize just how important place is to me. I remember one summer during junior high that I was severely depressed. We lived ten miles outside of town on a farm and the days were lonely and isolating for me. Whenever we went to town, I instantly felt better. I think it was the bustle of the people and the cars driving by.

I've found that I thrive in the city - the energy and vitality keeps me going, makes me feel alive.

But there are those moments when I go back home and sit on my dad's front porch, looking out over the vast stretch of prairie, and I feel peace. But only for a few days - then I have to get back to my lifeline - the city.

Strange, considering that I was born and raised on a farm. I never lived in town until I went to college. But I find that I can't quite go back to that small town mentality.

Thus, place is a very big component of my life. Some people can live anywhere and be just fine. Not me.

This has naturally crept into my novels. Setting is always supposed to be an important aspect of any story, but for me, it's more about how the character feels towards the setting. My hero's home is a place of refuge and peace, almost a character in itself.

Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights also focused on place - the Moors figured heavily into the novel. I actually walked those wind-swept Moors and could feel the loneliness and isolation. But there was also a subtle power about them that compelled you to stand in one spot and just close your eyes to listen to everything around you.

I'd like to explore this topic further, but darn if I didn't get a good night's sleep last night. Hubby's snoring and all. ;-)


  1. Setting is really important to me. I try to fit the story with the setting. I like to use the setting almost as a character.

  2. Place and setting are important to me too - both in my writing and personally. It's funny - I grew up in a city and am looking forward to moving to the country, though the way things keep growing on the Coast, it won't be country for long. And it took me years to reach the point that I said "Yeah, I really DO want to live here." I may not be able to walk to Starbucks once we get there, but there will be two within 20 mins of me - even one with a drive-through!!

  3. PS - Also meant to say - sorry you didn't sleep well either. Had we known, we coulda been trading emails at 4am!

  4. Sorry about not sleeping well. I lived in a small town for about a year and then college in a small town - I love them. I guess being agoraphobic and not caring if I left the house does help in those instances. I don't like traffic - I really enjoyed the quiet in the country. Setting in books is a big part of the story - it sets the mood for everything.

  5. Place has a powerful influence over me. Probably the reason why my blog tends to be image/season/atmosphere oriented. A big part of why I write is an effort to capture just a piece of what I feel in certain surroundings.

  6. Sorry you didn't sleep well. My hubby's been snoring a lot lately too! I almost slept on the couch the other night.

    Oh, and to me, the setting is as important to me as my characters.

  7. I'm not sure I could thrive out in the country either. My city doesn't have to be big, but I do need a grocery store and a gas station close by.

  8. Dana - Do you ever end up punching him in the arm in the middle of the night? ;-)

    Amy - For some reason, the only way I think I could live in the country is if my house is by a little village in England. :-)


I love to hear from you!

New Digs

I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance! www.melissamarsh.net