Monday, May 23, 2011

The Importance of Place

I attended a free writer's workshop on Saturday as part of the Nebraska Book Festival. Timothy Schaffert, published novelist, native Nebraskan, and creative writing lecturer at UNL, led the workshop. He's also been picked as a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers and is a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.

I've discovered that place plays quite an important role in my fiction, and I was eager to learn how to further develop its significance. Since all four of Schaffert's novels are set in Nebraska, he is the perfect guy to tell you how to make place matter.

Here are a few key insights from the workshop:

1) Make your place serve the story. You want setting details to help you not only see it, but see it through the eyes of your characters.

2) Your relationship with the reader is affected by how you represent place. Focus on the details the character would notice.

3) Be intensively selective. Eliminate facts that are known about a place and find facts that are useful.

4) It all comes down to character. How does the place shape the character?

And finally, a huge piece of advice that applies to just about everything we write, whether it's fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc.:

Don't take the reader out of the moment.


  1. Excellent! That definitely applies to memoirs. Thanks for sharing that helpful info.


  2. Thanks Melissa! I'm going to jot these very useful points down in my writing journal:)

  3. Linda - Oh yes. Definitely applies to memoirs!

    Valerie - You're welcome! Good points to remember. :-)

  4. It's interesting how, when you put it this way, so many of the parts of a story are strongly connected. Not only every word counts, every detail does too.

  5. Joanne - Agreed. I think we need to be particular on what details we include because they really frame the story AND the character.

  6. Great writing advice. I agree that selection of the right details is absolutely key. And yes--never, never take your reader out of the moment, not even to marvel at your fabulous prose!

  7. This is excellent - thanks! Just what I needed to hear. :)

  8. Christine - I think selecting those key details can be lots of fun - especially when you are in that character's skin and see it through their eyes.

    Erin - You're welcome!

  9. I did that by describing too much. I've learned to only describe what is important to the story right then, more description can come later.

  10. Those are great tips!!

    Reading this made something so clear to me that I've been wondering about. In my first book, the setting is a small town in Texas. It is very distinct and important to the story.

    The book I'm currently editing is set in the same town, but it feels like an entirely different place, and I've been trying to figure out why. You just highlighted what I think I did that I didn't know I was doing: seeing the town and it's details through the eyes of the main character.

    As the main character is different, and her attitudes about the town, so the town seems different.

    I love that!

  11. I love number three! I like to think of setting as part of the story.

  12. Heidi - You bring up such a great point, how one character can see the same place radically different than another character. Fascinating stuff!

    Terri - Indeed! Setting must be influential in our stories.


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