Discussions about creativity, growing old, growing young, self-publishing, freedom, the craft of writing, art, and many other topics. Part confessional, part thinking out loud, I write what interests me at the moment. BTW, I write my books under the pen name R. Patrick Hughes.
In Write Away,
Elizabeth George discusses how she uses setting in her fiction.
For George, the setting is like a living thing. It can tell
a lot about a character, and it can evoke an emotional reaction in the reader.
The purpose of setting includes creating atmosphere and mood. It can also
contrast with what’s going on in the scene, such as when something bad happens
in a peaceful setting. The writer should treat the landscape with the same
importance as she treats the character.
George likes to write about places she knows, often going to
where a story will take place. She notes everything from the flora and fauna to
the buildings to the type of sky. She takes photos as well. However, if she needs
to, she creates a setting, usually an amalgamation of different places she
already knows. She wants the setting to be as real as possible for the reader.
The greater reality it has for the writer, the greater reality it will have for
There’s also the setting that’s the environment the
character inhabits—his home, bedroom, automobile, and so forth. These things reveal
a lot about a character without the need for extensive explanation.
Each character has an outer landscape—his looks, skin, hair,
eyes, posture, voice, the clothes he wears, and so forth.
Each character has an inner landscape—his thoughts, beliefs,
objectives, interior monologue, and so on.
Effective settings require concrete details. Details are an
excellent way of showing what a
setting is like.
DESCRIPTION IN MOTION
Perhaps the most effective kind of description is that which
blends in with the narrative without interrupting the flow of the story.
Elizabeth George wants her fiction to be as real for the reader as possible. The setting in all its forms, described in telling details, helps achieve that goal. She wants to own her setting and, if she does own it, it helps the reader to own it, too.
How much importance does setting have in your fiction?
How do you approach describing setting in your writing?
How much effort do you put into using concrete details in your setting?
How much effort do you put into using details to reveal facts about a character?
Elizabeth George: Characterization is the Most
Important Element in Fiction
In Write Away,
Elizabeth George presents her method for writing fiction. Here I will discuss her
approach to creating characters.
First, though, she has an idea for what her novel will be
about and expands that idea as much as possible to have a solid understanding
of what the story line is.
Once she has a good idea for her novel, the next thing she
does is to begin developing her characters. Without a thorough understanding of
her characters, she wouldn’t know where to start writing the story. Characters are the impetus
for other aspects of the novel. It’s also through understanding her characters
that she develops much of her plot and subplots.
Her character analysis can start anywhere, with any piece of
information about a character. She writes in stream-of-consciousness fashion
about each and every character who might appear in the novel. In the analysis,
she wants to present everything she can about the character, but she is mainly
concerned with five pieces of information:
1)The character’s CORE
NEED. This a need that
originates deep within a person and is the force that drives a person to do the
things he does. The need is so important to a person that, when it is thwarted,
it can cause a pathological reaction, which leads to the second important piece
of information about a character,
2)The character’s PATHOLOGICAL
MANUEVER. This is what the character does under stress, how he
reacts when his core need is being denied or interfered with. It displays as some of the negative
ways of coping, such as becoming obsessive or hysterical.
3)The character’s SEXUALITY.
She wants to know what his attitude to sex is and his sexual history. This
may or may not show up in the story, but it’s important to know.
4)A PAST EVENT in
the character’s life that has had a significant influence on him. Again, this
may not show up in the story, but it tells a great deal about the character and
why he is the way he is.
CHARACTER WANTS IN THE STORY. That is, what the character wants
throughout the story and what the character wants in each individual scene. Of
course, this is influenced by the previous four pieces of information about the
character. What a character wants isn’t always clear cut or derived from one
basic need. It can result from multiple factors. And it may not be directly
Knowing all of this about each character suggests subplots
and many directions a story may take. It can lead to sources of conflict and
plot development. This isn’t formulaic writing, it’s organic, and can lead to
many surprises. I think this approach to characterization is well worth
What about you? Do you have a specialized approach to
I've been thinking about what this statement might mean.
Children are born learners; from both their experiences and formal education, they gradually, over a fairly long period of time, develop into who they will be as adults. I think that for the most part our experiences in childhood come to us uninvited. Whether a person has a happy childhood is out of his control; he has no control over the family and environment he was born into and whether it is poor, rich, abusive, or kind. Most families are comprised of a mixture of those things. I do agree with Hemingway in that an unhappy childhood is great training for a writer, especially for a literary one. It's also great training for criminals and psychopaths and generally unhappy adults in all walks of life.
Of course, 'happiness' is a difficult concept to define. Philosophers have given it various definitions. But, for this statement, I think that what we're talking about is, besides having the basics of food, clothing, and shelter, we have both the absence of abuse and the presence of loving kindness toward us in childhood, the combination of which tips the balance of experience in childhood, maybe in adulthood too, in favor of a feeling of well being and happiness.
To some degree, whether your childhood was happy or unhappy is a matter of perspective. We can certainly have selective memory. Also, people with similar childhood experiences can have different opinions about their childhood, some saying it was happy and others saying it was unhappy.
There's always the possibility that Hemingway was being facetious. Nevertheless, this statement of his begs the question: which is better for a person wanting to be a writer, to be most anything for that matter, to have had, an unhappy childhood or a happy one?
Which kind of childhood did you have, happy or unhappy?
If you had an unhappy childhood, have you managed to overcome the pain and find happiness?
Which would you rather have if you could do it over again?
Which would you rather your own child or children have?