A sense of place – Rosanna Ley
By Rosanna Ley
I write in a genre where setting is an important element of the novel. In Germany, the genre is sometimes called ‘Love and Landscape’. I love travelling and that may be why I chose to write this kind of book. Or did this kind of book choose me? Here are my ten tips about developing a sense of place within your novel.
• Location gives your story context and without context everything would be taking place in an empty space. It’s important – so consider location early on in your planning process.
• Choose a place that interests you. It should also be a place that you know well or want to visit. You will need to spend time there. It should add something to your novel. If you’re bored with your setting, the reader will be too. If you find a touch of magic somewhere – use it, and your feelings will come through in your writing.
• How about using a fictional town/village in a real county? This works really well for me. It gives you the benefit of writing a regional novel and using all the elements you love about a place (such as Dorset!), is appealing to those who know that area well, and can be a good selling point. I do the same when I write about other countries. For example Deriu in The Little Theatre by the Sea is not a real place but is based on Bosa on the west coast of Sardinia. This can avoid the problems inherent in using a ‘real’ place which include getting something wrong and/or upsetting the real people who live there…
• Do your research! Tourist offices are very helpful and will send material. Libraries are wonderful. The internet is invaluable. But nothing can take the place of going there and absorbing the flavours of the place. My husband comes with me and takes lots of photographs while I make the notes. I do some of my writing there too, I find houses where characters could live, places they might go and I ‘walk the walks’ that my characters might walk.
• Mood and atmosphere can come from your location. Practice writing a scene that takes place in the woods, on the beach or on a mountain top. Each will add something different. Consider what you want to achieve.
• Create emotion by connecting your main viewpoint characters to their environment – describe the place as they see it, hear it, smell it, feel it…
• Develop symbolism through your use of place. For example, Mary Wesley uses The Camomile Lawn to represent childhood and early memories.
• Use all five senses to describe your location. Your reader should feel truly transported there and this will add authenticity too.
• Interweave description of place into your writing to create a balance of dialogue/ action/ description/ introspection rather than big stand-alone chunks of description. Don’t let your description make the pace drag.
• Don’t forget where you are – or rather where your characters are. Don’t let them talk, act, think in a vacuum. Give them a sense of place!
Rosanna Ley is the bestselling author of novels including Return to Mandalay and The Villa and Last Dance in Havana. She has sold well over a million copies of her books. In February 2015 Return to Mandalay was shortlisted for the RNA Award for the Epic Romantic Novel. Her latest novel, The Little Theatre by the Sea, is out now.