Friday, March 4, 2011

Settings, and Character Viewpoints

Almost exactly one year ago, we left our Florida home and moved to Colorado. Our route was Orlando to Shreveport, LA, where I was presenting at a conference, and then to Monument, CO, to our daughter's house. Roads – we drove on a lot of them. Through major cities, around major cities, and out in the middle of nowhere. And, since we needed both our vehicles at our destination, Hubster and I drove separately.

When we started, we took the 'meet at a designated rest stop' option. Throughout Florida and Mississippi, they tended to be about 30-50 miles apart, which worked out well, giving us frequent opportunities to touch base and make sure everything was going well. It also drove home the fact that two people traveling the same route will have totally different experiences based on their world view.

When Hubster and I met up, we'd compare what we'd seen, and many times we didn't "see" the same things. Of course, at 70+ mph, it's easy to be looking the other way at the instant something catches the other driver's eye, but there are also things that he'll zero in on that I might not notice.

He's much more likely to notice birds (and to identify them). I see some of them, but since I'm not as well versed in ornithology, I see many of them as generic 'birds'. He also knows that the aggregation of big white things was a wind farm. We both notice trains (hard to miss), but he's much more excited about them. And the John Deere dealerships.

Once we got into central Texas, the roads went on and on. Long, straight, with rolling hills. As expected, there were lots of cows. Lots of horses. What wasn't expected: llamas, which I saw but hubby didn't. He saw coyotes, but I didn't. But the kicker was the field with a herd of camels. Those were definitely unexpected. We also saw pronghorn antelope. And despite the warning signs at rest stops, we didn't see any snakes, poisonous or otherwise.

Lots of roadkill as well. Skunks. Armadillo. Deer. Flat stuff.

We pulled into our last " motel after a relatively short driving day. It was a small town—population 7237, and judging from the smell, most of them are cows. But it's interesting. The sense of smell is tied to memories, and for hubby, it smelled like where he grew up. I don't find it quite so appealing, although I get the same reaction to birdseed, because my great uncle had an egg ranch, and I remember visiting and being allowed to help feed the chickens. The smell of birdseed always takes me back.

When you're writing, setting is important. And even the same setting won't elicit the same reactions from all your characters. If your story is set in one locale, changing the weather can change the setting. Character viewpoints will make the setting richer as they will have different perceptions of the same thing. And don't forget to use all the senses.

For more information Terry, visit her website. She can also be found at Terry's Place blogging about writing and life in general. And this month, she's giving away an ARC of her next release WHERE DANGER HIDES. Be sure to visit her contest page at her blog for a chance to win!


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Setting is so important in writing. Often it's the forgotten "character." But as you observe,
point of view is important to how setting will be described. Each character will have a unique view of the setting which underlies the individual personality.

Terry Odell said...

Setting definitely should be considered an integral part of the book.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

James L. Hatch said...

Good blog, and I loved Jacqueline's comment about setting being the forgotten character. I think that might help me describe scenes better. Thanks.

Terry Odell said...

James, definitely. I've become more attuned to setting since our move, and also to the way different people perceive it.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Anonymous said...

I've tried writing a few pieces with generic settings--you know, a big city somewhere in the US, an unbranded small town etc. It doesn't work, at least not for me. I love to use settings as characters, and I love to have the settings influence the plot and people in my stories. Good reminder, Terry.

Terry Odell said...

Rebbie - it bothers me when authors ignore aspects of setting. I lived in Florida for over 30 years, and yet read books set there that never mentioned what it feels like in that hot, sticky environment. When I set my first book in small-town Oregon, I drove my sister-in-law nuts asking her about all the little details--what tress would be blooming at the time my story was set, etc. And she caught some errors where I'd put trees where they shouldn't be growing.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Terry: Nice post! When you mentioned bird seed, I thought of the smell of sweet feed. At one time, we had milk goats, one of the most adorable animals in the world. They were picky about their food, and gave the best milk when eating the most expensive sweet feed. Weather, like you said, can reflect the mood of the scene. We can't underestimate the strength of using the senses to set the scene. Thanks for the reminder.

Terry Odell said...

Joyce - yes, the sense of smell calls up deep-rooted memories. It's one of our most primitive senses. I tend to ding authors for not using it when I judge contests.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Lemur said...

I made the same trip - from FL to our new home in CO, about 6 months after you did. Sounds like we may have taken the same roads too.

Excellent article on viewpoint. I agree with the sense of smell, also. I enjoy writing about places I've been, because I know how to describe the smells there, the flowers, and so on.

The CRITTER Project and Naked Without A Pen

Terry Odell said...

Lemur - seems like half the people I meet either came from Florida or are leaving CO to move to Florida

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