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:



Steam yacht Parties on Lake Windermere

During the Industrial Revolution the local gentry, rich cotton magnates and entrepreneurs loved to socialise on Lake Windermere. They held weekend steamer and tea parties, the ladies showing off their elegant dresses and parasols, while the gentlemen competed for the finest looking steam launch. These would display the very best in velvet upholstery, carpets and leather seating. Even the boat’s name and their own family crest on the crockery. There would be lace tablecloths and servants would be present to serve lunch or the picnic, perhaps on an island on the lake.

The gentlemen might indulge in a little fishing for salmon, trout or char, while the ladies gossiped and relaxed. Char was considered to be a great delicacy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Regattas, FĂȘtes and Water festivals were an important feature of Lakeland life, a wonderful opportunity to show off a new boat, and take part in water sports, sailing and fishing competitions.

Kaiser Wilhelm II visited in 1895, while staying with the Earl of Lonsdale at Lowther Castle. The streets of Bowness and Ambleside were decorated with flags and bunting to celebrate the event.

Then there was the ice skating when the lake froze over, including the winter of 1929. Lily gets involved in many such events, although things do not always turn out quite as she expects.

Lake Windermere has been a focal point of the community since at least the time of the Romans, who could access it from their camp, Galava, at Waterhead. Medieval monks also used the lake as a source of food and transport.

Steam launches still operate on the lake to this day, where visitors can enjoy a sail and even tea out on the lake made on a Windermere kettle. To see a fine display of the most historic, the Windermere Steamboat Museum is most definitely worth a visit.

Lily Thorpe is a spirited, ambitious fisherman’s daughter, desperate to escape the poverty of her Lakeland home. When the rich Clermont-Read family spoils her plans, Lily embarks on a personal quest for revenge and marries their only son, Bertie, a handsome indolent charmer. Rejected by his family, the young couple soon find themselves battling against the very poverty Lily had hoped to escape... A twist of fate brings her the freedom she craves, but the price Lily must pay is vindictive snobbery from Bertie’s mother - as well as another far greater one, finally leading to a passionate affair with Nathan Monroe, a local steam boat captain. Now it is Lily who must protect herself against the threat of vengeance and decide who is more important, her husband or her lover.

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