How to put PLACE on paper

I am standing beneath a canopy of twisting live oaks on an abandoned road in what used to Logtown, MS in the NASA Stennis Space Center Buffer Zone.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

Of all the many things that fascinate me about PLACE, writing it down is the thing I love the most about it.

In fiction we call place SETTING. 

Setting describes both the place and time of a story.   Just as in life, nearly every other aspect of a story is defined by the particular place we choose to set it in.

The lives of our characters are shaped by it, their actions bending to the twists and turns of the world we have built for them. A vivid setting provides a context for the events that unfold in the pages of our stories. It makes our characters come alive.  It makes them seem real to our readers in ways they could never be without it.

How to write compelling setting description.

The beautiful blue sky reflects perfectly on the surface of White's Bayou in Pearlington, MS.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

There are many choices when it comes to choosing a setting for your story. You can invent whole worlds that have never been dreamed of.  Every tiny detail of your setting can grow from the depths of your own wild imagination.

You can borrow aspects from real places, piecing them together like patchwork until they suit the needs of the story you are telling.

Personally, I think of setting in my own fiction as a way to honor place. I take my setting descriptions down from life. I stand in the place I am writing about and try to put it down on the page exactly as I experience it. I pour life into a mortar and use it to build the walls of my stories.

Once I have the setting written down my story grows from there, essentially rooted in place.

On location.

A dark and mysterious grove of Bald Cypress in Honey Island Swamp near Slidell, LA.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

It is my words that have brought me back to the South.  I am here on a mission, collecting places and putting them on paper.

I am currently working on a collection of short fiction, and I have a long list of places I need to write while I am here.

I have come  to walk the path of my characters, to stand where they would have stood and see what they would have seen.

The twisted branches of a dead live oak are draped in Spanish Moss in what used to be Logtown, MS in the NASA Stennis Space Center Buffer Zone.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

I strive to empty myself of me and fill myself up with this place. I want to become full of the rich, sultry sights and sounds and smells around me.

I write the trees, the bayous, the swamps, the marsh, the cities and the towns. I record the raw material that makes up this place. And then I try writing its soul, try to describe how it feels to be here.

This is as important as anything. The tone. The atmosphere. What is it to be somewhere, as well as what this place is completely outside of me. Who am I here, as I am nowhere else?

Questions to ask yourself.

A baby alligator swims through White's Bayou in Pearlington, MS.  The surface of the water is a perfect reflection of the tangle of green marsh grass that grows on the bank.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

How can places change us? How do they affect how we see the world? These are the questions we must ask ourselves if our settings, our characters, and our stories are ever to come alive on the page.

Try it yourself sometime. Wherever you go, write it down.  Go out in the world.  Find new places.   Start collecting them on paper.  Try taking pictures while you’re there as well.  Later on, the photographs will help you recall the exact details of the places you are writing about.

Follow the tips in this article and the next time you sit down to write a story, you’ll have a wealth of authentic setting descriptions to draw from. Who knows where it might take you?

Tell me what you think.

A lane of live oaks stretches down an abandoned road in the ruins of Logtown, MS in the NASA Stennis Space Center Buffer Zone.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

What are your thoughts on setting? How do you experience place as a writer? As a reader? Feel free to post your comments below.

Don’t forget to follow me in LOCUS: A journey in search of PLACE.

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5 thoughts on “How to put PLACE on paper

  1. Pingback: Finding your character’s voice through PLACE | LOCUS

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