Friday, May 27, 2016
Friday, May 20, 2016
|The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris|
No matter the setting of your novel, that setting is taken into the reader’s brain through their 5 senses:
Last week I wrote on this sense for setting, probably the most evocative sense for the reader.
Sight is a given; most writers know how to write what a setting looks like. But as you write, remember that you are building a world brick by brick, leaf by leaf in a forest, every pebble on your seaside. And, it is the use of all 5 senses that is the mortar keeping the bricks of your story world together.
Building a world is reserved not only for science fiction or fantasy writers. True, writers of those genres must create an entire biosphere that is nothing like (or perhaps just a little like) the world we live in. But this is true also for the historical novelist, as they write about a setting that is long gone. And true for writers who want to set a story in another land, a land they’ve never set foot in.
This is where research becomes your best friend. For my British Raj trilogy I easily read around 200 books or more on British India. But for setting, I specifically researched other types of books, aside from political and historical tomes to gain historical facts, but to help me develop my story world, such as:
Through those same history books I discovered how that setting feels to the touch. I wanted to know how it feels to live in the shadow of an ancient palace that was built thousands of years ago, or close to a place where a great battle took place. I’d ask myself, “Does strolling past these artifacts on my character’s way to market or even in a modern day setting bring a certain texture to their fingertips as they brush past these edifices? How does it feel to take a taxi past something as magnificent as the Roman Colosseum?” How do the cobblestones of a Dublin street feel beneath my characters’ footsteps?
Travel books were a great help to me in understanding how the setting feels against skin, cold, heat, texture of sand, surf, grass underfoot.
Setting is so much more than the flora and vegetation, more than mountains, deserts, jungles, woods, or sandy coasts. Setting is also about:
- Jungle noises such as large predatory cats roaring in the night, cacophony of bird songs, insects buzzing.
- Sand hissing on a desert floor.
- Surf pounding a beach.
- Wind whistling as it bleaches a white stretch of beach.
- The jingle of taxi bells in a busy Indian market
Taste (Nice and not-so-nice)
Cookbooks (cooking aromas and tastes) Especially if you can find old cookbooks from a certain era. I lucked out the day I found an old British Raj cookbook from the 1800’s written for English women living in India.
But don't forget the not-so-nice tastes:
- Diesel fumes from buses (how that horrid taste is in the mouth)
- A bug flying into a character’s mouth
- The 0verly strong taste of alcohol for a non-drinker.
- The astringency of medicine, etc.
We don’t know what the past was like as far as the 5 senses, unless we read primary sources from those times, such as biographies and other historical or even a few environmental science journals.
Friday, May 13, 2016
|The Perfume Maker, by Rodolphe Ernst|
Readers read novels for an emotional experience. Something writers must never forget. One of the best tools for arousing emotion in a reader is the use of scent in a setting.
Nothing quite stirs us as much as:
- and so on.
So many evocative terms for taking the setting in through our olfactory system, our sense of smell and letting it set up a visual image in our reader’s brain. I won’t bother with the science, we all know how a fragrance can wing us back to our early childhood, stir memories long forgotten.
During the edits of one of my British Raj novels, my editor suggested I vary the words for “smell”. With that suggestion a whole new world opened up to me in regards to setting. I believe it’s one of the reasons that series Twilight of the British Raj is so well received.
Here are some samples of my favorite scenes that use scent to set the setting.
Excerpt from Shadowed in Silk
The New Delhi sliced her way through the narrows of Kolaba Point, and the familiar scent of Bombay reached out to Abby. Laine was right. No sense worrying. Tucking a strand of hair into her chignon, she savored a tantalizing whiff of overripe fruit, roses, marigolds and cloves, mingled with the acrid smell of dust.
Scent can also be portrayed in a setting as intimate as a man’s arms. As in this excerpt from Veiled at Midnight.
“She breathed in the clean scent of his cotton shirt as the sun set.”
One of my favorite quotes in Captured by Moonlight uses scent as a symbol for Christian character, and it was coined by an Indian Christian by the name of Sundar Singh who said,
“A true Christian is like sandalwood, which imparts its fragrance to the axe which cuts it, without doing any harm in return.”
Add a whole new set of paints to your writing toolbox by opening up the box of scent.