Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Location, Location

While in Ireland over a decade ago, I learned the phrase "soft morning". The Irish use it to describe a grey morning with just the slightest hint of rain. The rain floats down like snow flakes and everything is covered in a thin sheen of light. Even the streets are lovely. There is magic in an Irish rain. Somehow, under all those clouds, the sunlight seeps in through the mist, and the roses grow the size of dinner plates. It's like being lost in a Lewis Carroll novel. Did I mind it? Not at all.

Soft mornings are rare in the South. Usually our weather is all or nothing. The wind the past few days has been growling around the house, whipping the chimes into angry gongs. No whimsical breeze; no accompanying swirling mist.

My stories are all set in the South or in Ireland. Some of the Irish ones I'm trying to convert to Southern stories simply because that's where I'm at. I want my worlds to be as authentic as they can be (even if my characters are only using their home as a transition to another world). My struggle is constantly, do I write about what's outside my door or what's inside my head?

Write what you know. We've all been told that and I believe that there is infinite wisdom in that statement. If you don't know something, you can't write about it in a way that will make the setting solidify in your reader's minds. But, you see, I've been to those softly rolling green hills. I've walked in a soft morning mist, hiked several blocks to wander tombstones before the sleeping village (or my classmates) were awake. It may have been almost twelve years ago, but I can still see those places in my mind as if I was there yesterday. And, if ever I need a reference, I have a shopping bag full of photographs I can rummage through.

Write what you know or what your heart knows? I'm going to go with both. We need our worlds to be as real as they can be. I certainly don't want someone in Galway, Ireland to read a scene of mine and say, "No, that's not right at all!" Assimilation is the key to creating place. If your work is based firmly in an historical place and time, you should probably go there, or at least do so much research that a reader will think you've been there. If, however, you're creating a place that could be real, might be touchable, might be fantasy, then an amalgam of places will do.

I suppose that's why all my fantasy worlds are green and blushing with dinner plate sized roses. I write my fantasy worlds from the landscapes of my heart; I write my "real world" locations from where I'm currently planted.

What about you? Do you write from where you're from? Where you've been? Where you're going? Or do you pull everything together and create a world that can't be pinned down on a map? If so, do you draw those maps yourself?

Just curious...


  1. most of my writing comes from my life...so its as real as it can get...as for my stories....i tend to write scenes that i have seen in some form or fashion...when i come upon an intersting place often i will try to capture it for use in the future in my notebook...

  2. Since I write science fiction, I can't write from a familiar location. (Really - I haven't been to Cassa!) But I can use the locations of places I've lived or visited, such as my experience living in Arizona added to my description of the desert planet of Tgren.
    And we are still windy here!

  3. Yep! So far all my books are set in the same part of the world as where I am from. Namely middle England! The places are made up but the mores, atmosphere and physiical descriptions are true blue!

  4. So far, I write realistic fiction and nonfiction. I live where I write and write where I live. I don't see other worlds in my head. You have a special gift.

  5. Hi, Jen! Great post and I definitely tend to write what I know. In future works, I hope to do research on newer places and things and incorporate those into a WIP. I found your blog through Margo's and am glad I did. We have a lot in common! (Nerdy girl, live in South). Best of luck with your writing :)

  6. 'soft morning', love it. the phrase and the experience.

    Write what you know or what your heart knows - i like that. never have been a fan of the former, such a dry, if helpful tactic for beginners. but some of the best fiction is fantasy, sci-fi, or simply entirely unknown to the author.

    so yes, what the heart knows.

  7. I usually make up the towns/settings in my stories, but I try to ground them in landscapes I'm comfortable with - so the climate zones are usually the same as mine :)

  8. I've yet to write anything set in an environment like the one I live in--mostly because all of my novels are Science Fiction, some taking place on spacecraft.

  9. write what you know - great statement. and true, makes it all easier! great blog! new follower...hi!

  10. Brian: Your writing is so powerful and poetry lends itself brilliantly to writing from real life experience! I wouldn't change a thing :)

    Alex: That's one of the things I love most about fantasy and science fiction. We can create new worlds but ground them in what we know from real life. Arizona=desert planet. An unknown realm and yet familiar. It works!

    Pat: Thanks for stopping by! Ah, England. Yes, I'd be writing from real life too if that was my view :)

    Mary: Thanks :). Sometimes, I wish the worlds weren't so vivid! They clamor for my attention away from the real world. But I always ground my "other worlds" in what I've experienced in the here and now. It's the only way I can make them real.

    Saumya: Hello and welcome! Thanks to Margo for sending you my way :). Always happy to meet a fellow southern writer. Writing what you know is a great place to start...as you research, you can count those new places as "what you know". It's all about accumulating experience!

    Monica: I wasn't a fan of "write what you know" until I understood that what I know could mean my back yard or the in depth research I've done about the moon. We know so much and so much is available to us via the Internet now. I say if you're interested in something, learn all you can about it. Then you CAN write what you know with pleasure :)

    Jemi: That's what I do. I love making up worlds, but there's always the hint of Georgia, Savannah, Ireland, or India in them. We can't get away from the places we've been; they always creep into our writing and grounds our work in the here and now.

    Golden: Science Fiction lends itself well to the blending of what's right out your front door and what's brewing inside your mind. That's why I love writing fantasy so much! I have complete freedom and yet I must ground it somehow so my readers believe it!

    Tammy: Thanks for stopping by! And thanks for following :) Very glad to meet you.

  11. I would love to write more about where I've been.

    I love this post. I wish I could go to Ireland.


Well, hello! I'm so glad you made it. Come inside and sit by the hearth. I'll take your coat and hat. The kettle is singing and there's cake and candles and good conversation. Settle in and make yourself at home. Don't mind the wolfhounds; they're friendly if you give them a bit of lemon curd.