Monday, February 20, 2006

A Sense of Place

So I had an interesting revelation on Friday - an epiphany, one might say. BHJ and I watched the De Niro flick "Hide and Seek", which I was actually kind of looking forward to. I ended up not particularly liking the film, although I'm not much of a movie person. (I prefer to watch my movies in book form).

In any case, it's supposed to be a thriller/suspense piece, and even though there was a lot of something-terrible-is-gonna-happen music, there was no real suspense for me. Well, until a brief scene with Dakota Fanning in the decrepit basement of the country home that she and De Niro had just moved to. Nothing particularly frightening happens in the basement (scary music notwithstanding) but it completely freaked me out. It also brought two interesting tidbits to my attention: (a) apparently I've never gotten over my weird aversion to basements, and (b) I had really strong feelings about the 3 major settings that were featured in my first book; the main character's apartment, which was inspired by an apartment I saw about ten years ago, the parent's home, and the office that she works in. And it occurred to me that I wrote about them pretty vividly without thinking about it all that much. I really struggled in a number of places with plot and character development, but setting? Not so much.

As I've been working through ideas for my next book, I realized that I don't have a strong sense of place for my new main character. I have some idea about what who I'm going to write about and some of the conflict that's going to happen, but I don't know exactly where it all takes place. So far, all I have is a sneaking suspicion that the main character lives in a condo. I know that setting - particularly a character's home - has a huge impact on characters; it shapes who they become and is also a reflection of who they are, so I'd like to get this figured out.

Unfortunately - and no offence to any condo dwellers out there - I'm really not a condo enthusiast. BHJ and I live in a very small house, with the tiniest of gardens. So I guess I'm going to have to do some research. Luckily Toronto is chock full of shiny new condos so going to some open houses likely won't be too difficult.

Author Elizabeth George, in "Write Away" included an interesting section on locations; she takes pictures of some of the places that feature in her work, places that bodies are found and the like. I don't really care for all the dead bodies, but I think that this is a great way to keep the atmosphere and feeling of a particular place vivid for a writer. I'll pack my handy digital camera and bring it with me on my travels, and let you know how it goes.


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