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.