Finishing our home office has been a three year process. Much of my writing used to take place with my laptop on the couch because it was a more pleasant place to sit. However, with some minor design changes and some new wall art, we now type at our own desks, back to back. Best of all, the division of space means the living room is no longer a computing zone, restoring a bit of balance to our household.
And, this huge picture of Paris reminded me that even if you don’t like your view out the window, you can always buy one that does the trick. Not a bad place to stare as I fix my chapters that take place in Paris…
Do you have an inviting space set aside for just writing?
“Sometimes you may find it useful to let your characters huddle in the wings without you preparing for their roles, improvising dialogue, while you set the stage for their appearance. Imagine yourself the set designer for a play or for the movie version of the story you are working on.”
-Anne Lamott, bird by bird
I was a strange child. By fifth or sixth grade, I was attempting to read Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Dickens, in addition to more predictable childhood favorites like R.L. Stine and Madeleine L’Engle. What I remember most about those classic authors was the detail with which they described almost every scene. Even my adult eyes now sometimes grow impatient when met with that much description.
One of my theories about why these authors included such long descriptions of space was because the world was a different place when they wrote. Mass media did not exist. People’s prior knowledge of places beyond the familiar was much more limited. Today you mention practically any major city around the globe and mental images abound, helping to catch the reader up to speed without the necessity of a two-page Steinbeck description of Salinas.
However, I also recognize that good writing needs to put you in the setting, so that you can see, smell, feel the place where the characters exist. Admittedly, I have a tendency to glance over this aspect of writing, more fixated on the inner workings of my characters and the actual action of the plot/dialogue than taking the time to carefully establish scenery. I blame this on being part of an impatient generation that is bombarded by imagery in fast-paced entertainment.
So, of my own accord, I am going back into each chapter and making sure I created scenery that provides enough detail, inspired in part by those same great writers that sometimes make me impatient. Today I took myself back to the Gare d’Austerlitz train station in Paris. As I imagined all of the sights, sounds, smells, etc., I began googling for inspiration. Funny how six seconds on YouTube can evoke such strong memories. I am now aching to hear the anxious clicking of that departure board again in real life.
Google Maps Street View is one of my favorite tools as a writer. When I set out to write Expecting Happiness, I first asked myself what kind of book I was in the mood to read. My answer, something involving a travel adventure, so I set to work creating characters that wanted to leave behind their boring lives and hit the open road, (real stretch of the imagination, right?). Of course, I ended up taking them places I had been before, because writing about places I had never actually seen felt daunting.
However, I quickly realized that my fuzzy memories left holes in the pictures of these destinations, and the characters’ personalities also started to take them places within these cities that I never visited. My solution? Google Maps Street View. Now, I do not pretend to be the first writer with this clever idea, but it is one of my favorite tricks to help me understand the layout of a city and visualize its scenery. If you haven’t checked it out before, you should give it a shot. You never know what sort of inspiration you’ll find.
My male protagonist wanted to run in Paris, but what would he see? What parks on the list of places to jog in Paris might he visit?
I needed a place for my female protagonist’s cousin to live in Nuremberg. What do the suburbs a couple of stops past the Hitler rally grounds look like?
Hmm, I wonder if I could find my dorm room while studying abroad in Burgos, Spain… Okay, this trick also gets me sidetracked.
Alright, if my female protagonist wanted to walk to a school in the Sarrià-St. Gervasi neighborhood of Barcelona, what would she see along the way?