27 Sep How to write about place
Last week I ran two special workshops in the small coastal town of Laurieton on the mid-north coast of NSW. They were held in the old boat shed of the pilot station at Camden Haven.
The doors were wide open and we could hear the sound of the surf and birds calling. One participant saw a red-bellied black snake on the path as she walked there. It was a perfect spot to write about place.
For one exercise everyone went outside for 10 minutes to connect with the land. They each chose an object – from a gum nut to a scarlet bottle-brush flower – as a way to focus their writing. The aim was to be really present and then write.
When you anchor the place, you anchor your writing.
This is especially true in travel writing but in fiction too you need to create a real world for the reader. The more solid the world, the more they can enter into the story.
10 tips on how to capture the essence of a place:
- Find the central idea of the place. Choose one object and through that tell a bigger story.
- Use all your senses.
- Show how the place makes you feel – so the reader can feel it too.
- Use personification to bring to life a river, the weather, the sea.
- Ensure your details are specific: names of trees, squeak of the sand between your toes.
- Use characters to represent the place.
- Make the place a character in your story. What is its temperament? And behaviour? If it were a person, how would he or she look?
- What is the significance of the name of the place? For those in Australia, find out the Aboriginal name as a clue.
- What is your connection to this place – is it a way into your own story?
- Lastly, can you capture the spirit of the place? Can you nail that ephemeral quality through your words? This is the hardest to do but when done well, evocative to read.