Character through Sense of Place

A sense of place is much more than pretty scenery.
It must have a character of its own. It needs to seduce the reader into feeling a part of it, to believe it truly exists. They need to feel the power of its personality. This is vitally important because many people buy the book because of where it is set. Descriptive passages are all well and good but they must have a purpose, and not simply be a piece of pretty padding. You need to understand a region, to be able to recreate the intrinsic character of the place, to understand its history, its values and social problems. Its morals and ideals, history, religion, politics and industry, just as you would if it were a character in your book. You need to know how all of this affects the people who live there.

1. A person’s character becomes closely associated with his or her roots. Where was your character brought up and when? What has he/she lived through?

2 Convey a strong sense of the times, some detail in the vast sweep of history to delineate it. What makes this moment in history similar or different to any other? Show social trends. What is her view of society, or the problems of the age? Her personal take on it. Show all of this through your POV character.

3. What effect does the psychology of place have upon your characters? What is their relationship with the place? Their memories or how they feel about it. Has the place changed, or changed them? Do they belong? Love it or hate it?

4. Put emotion and passion into your writing.

5. A good setting is in the detail. Clearly observed. Delineate mood and atmosphere. Needs to be closely observed in precise details, yet with a wide focus of importance. ‘A place is the sum of its parts.’

Minor characters:
These are an important and well recognised feature of English fiction. They can really bring a region alive. Vinegar-faced Joseph in Wuthering Heights. The local peasants in Hardy’s novels. They couldn’t have lived anywhere else. They can illustrate some particular feature of the area, a trade, a tradition, a way of life now gone, a period or class. They provide light relief or a window through which to view the times. Use them to your advantage.

Dialogue and dialect: 
The way a character speaks is important. You can’t write about a region without using some of the regional dialect but it mustn’t be overdone. It can look quite unreadable and off-putting if too accurately carried out. It’s best to give only an indication of the local twang, and restrict it to one or two characters. Remember it would be more marked among older people. One or two carefully selected local words can bring a character to life without resorting to making the speech incomprehensible. Use idioms and local sayings. There are often books on local twang for you to check spellings. But use the simplest form.

The Plus Factor:
You need to reveal that very special emotion which you personally feel for the area. You must love the region yourself, warts and all, then it will show in your writing. You can take photographs of the setting you intend to use in your book. You can do your research, note the architecture, the building materials, the small details such as circular chimneys which are common in the Lakes, tile-hung walls or thatched roofs, whatever is intrinsic to the area but do not inundate your reader with information. Use detail appropriately and sparely. What you are trying to do is make the place feel real. And the best way to do that is through the people who live there.

Read an extract from Polly Pride:


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