Making the Place When Blogging
It’s not only about writing a blog, it’s about writing a blog that is interesting. People have plenty to read, so make it something they want to read. When writing on a topic, don’t just make it about a topic but make the topic come to life like you would a character in a story. Realize that writing a blog is about conveying some information but also that it has to be something of interest. Think of each blog as a mini-story (or a long one, in some cases). A blogging colleague recently looked at some ways in which the setting of a novel could become so dynamic as to be a real character. I would like to expand upon that idea, because just as you want every character to be deep and three-dimensional, so it would be a shame to waste the opportunities setting gives you to deepen the whole story.
The Gormenghast Syndrome
In Mervyn Peake’s off-beat trilogy, the eponymous castle of Gormenghast might be said to be the protagonist. In the first two books, it is the setting of the action, as weird and over the top as the human characters. Its geography determines the unfolding of the plot, its idiosyncrasies (and there are plenty of them) underline those of its occupants. Love of it motivates them. But in the third volume, the setting changes to a modernistic world, which makes it clear that the world in which Gormenghast Castle and its denizens lived wasn’t real, even in its time. The architectural protagonist is replaced by Titus Groan, the human proprietor, who was only an infant in the previous books. And that third one is so boring this reader could hardly force herself to finish. Everything that had drawn me to the series was gone.
The takeaway from this? Setting matters. Some stories cannot be transposed from one to another without fatal loss.
What Setting Adds
This isn’t always the case, of course. Many books exist in a generic world. Not every novel needs to be Harry Potter, which is so addictive mostly because of the exceptional and eccentric world-building. Police procedurals, for example, could for the most part take place in any big city. But look at the difference the addition of an intensely distinctive setting can add: Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti series, set in Venice, would be just another set of police-solve-crime books—with wonderful characters, it’s true. But Venice itself is really the protagonist. The police heading to the scene of the crime in a boat. The decaying palaces with their flooded ground floors. The coffee at the neighborhood hangout. It all adds up to an atmosphere that couldn’t be anywhere else. If the author suddenly decided to have Brunetti go to Los Angeles, I think I would stop reading.
Let Me Out of Here
This sameness within a genre that featureless settings breed probably explains the proliferation of historical mysteries, because we crave a uniqueness in place just as we do in characters. The book’s setting distinguishes it from its countless congeners. Foggy nineteenth-century London is so much more distinctive than the vast modern city of that name. It has so much more character; it is a character. The Middle Ages, ancient Rome: each setting shapes its protagonists and shapes their procedure. To be sure, not all of these are well done, and perhaps a well-written mystery set in a featureless modern world is better than one set in an exotic place but poorly written. Every book of any kind set in any world, old or new, still has the same standards of craft to live up to. And part of that skill lies in making the setting deep, rich, and unforgettable, wherever it is.
Here We Are … and Nowhere Else
What does that exactly? Well, description has to head the list. The reader has to be able to visualize the setting, to hear it, to smell it. Details have to be well-observed and authentic. The mise-en-scene has to determine the geography of the action in a distinctive way. Perhaps it shapes the human characters that inhabit it in a manner that no other place could. Whether it’s a modern American city or an exotic time or place, lay on the idiosyncrasies without fear! Just as you want to make every human character as interesting and as layered as you can, lavish the same care on the world in which they live. Readers like me will thank you!
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David WB Parker is a principal of Parker Associates of Jacksonville, Florida, marketing consultants to the real estate industry; President of PTC Computer Solutions, IT Specialist, and an active real estate sales professional with Barclay’s Real Estate Group based in Jacksonville, FL. He can be reached at 904-607-8763 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.