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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

A Sense of Place

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If you’ve read the recent posts here about my current work in progress, you’ll know that I use inspiration boards as I write. There’s one in my office, and you can see my public one online here. These are just hints - I don't base my characters on any one person. They're an amalgamation of many different people, with a dash of pure invention added for good measure. 

The same doesn't always apply to places. Sometimes I use real life locations for my fiction work. As I was writing Lady Rascal,I had a very particular interior in mind for Philip Adamson's country house. My OH's office used to be based in Hollywood Estate Mansion, which is in Easter Compton near Bristol. As luck would have it, my father’s best friend used to work there back before the Second World War, so I had some background information about the place before I started. The exterior of the house didn't quite match my idea of Philip's house, so the trailer you can see at the top of this post includes shots of a completely different property. That's the great thing about fiction - you can fiddle with reality until it's exactly the way you like it.

While dialogue and action bring characters alive and keep the plot moving along, the “genius loci” or spirit of a place forms the background of your story. You can use this in two ways: as a straightforward clue to tell readers what to expect, or as a contrast to what goes on there. The forbidding Transylvanian castle on a crag is an instantly recognisable shorthand for a vampire story. Alternatively, you can use your setting to shock. Miss Marple’s St Mary Mead is a cosy country setting. Who would expect an idyllic English village like that to be the setting for murder? Yet Agatha Christie used it in the perfect contrast of place and event. In the same way bad things happen to good heroes and heroines, nasty things can happen in the best places.

What's your favourite fictional place? Whether you’re a reader or a writer, I’d love to hear from you.