The Importance of Location in Writing

March 24, 2010 in On Writing, Study

Last night’s narrative writing class was about the use of location in writing.

To be honest, it wasn’t something that I had given much thought to before.  When I write a story, the location is not really something I consider.  I think about the plot, and I think about the characters, and what they want to do and where they want to go.  Those things usually dictate the location where the events take place.

But what if you take a scene from a story and change the location?  How would that change things?  If you take a murder and place it in the back of a hospital as opposed to a dark alley?  Or if you take a road trip and put it through the desert rather than the jungle?  How does that change the dynamics, the tone, and the imagery?

Do you ever wonder why a particular story or event takes place in a certain location?  For instance, why do some writers always write about the outback, where it is open and barren, while some others like to write stories about confined spaces?

And how a character perceives a location or setting is always telling of that person’s mood.  If you get a person who just found out about their impending death to describe a setting, it would no doubt be completely different to the description of a person who just fell madly in love.  The way a setting is described can give plenty of clues as to what the character is feeling.

I’m usually horrible at describing the setting and location.  I never know how much to put in and what to leave to the imagination of the audience.  I always end up going with the cliches and hoping that I’ll be able to fix things up in rewrites.  I envy those authors who are able to pinpoint a few features of a setting that stand out, and just focus on those things.  While it might not give you a full picture, it does give you enough to get a feel of what the place is like and what the character is seeing or feeling.

I found it all to be quite fascinating, and can’t wait to apply more thought to it in my own writings.

[PS: Unfortunately, we had the insufferable lethal duo in class last night.  Up to that point, the two dudes had, by some stroke of fortune, never been in the same class.  One guy was always away for whatever reason.  Last night, the two of them sat together for the first time, and the results were brutal.  One of them loved to comment on everything, and felt the urge to comment on everything we read or what anyone says.  The problem is, the comments are usually always negative, and as we found out last night, often wrong.  Various comments he made were shot down by other classmates as plainly incorrect (eg the meaning or use of a particular word or phrase), but he somehow managed to hold on to those erroneous views to the death.  The other guy spoke less, but he was a waffler that loved to talk about the past and his many old stories, even if they had nothing to do with the discussion.  Once he starts on something you might as well take a nap.  The two of them worked like a well-oiled machine, not jumping over each other, but like the perfect wrestling tag team.  It was one after the other, a negative comment followed by an old-time story, and vice versa.  A seamless performance.]