The Importance of the Sense of Place

Sense of Place

Though I've written about setting in the past, I'd like to approach it a bit differently today.

Two of my favorite writers are masters at creating a sense of place in every novel they write.

William Kent Krueger depicts cold and snowy weather in such a way that I often have to fetch a sweater to wear while reading.

James Lee Burke, in his mysteries set in and around New Orleans, creates scents with words--something few writers can do. His descriptions of the bayous are wonderful.

I do not claim to be anywhere near the writer these two are, but when I'm writing, my goal is to describe the places where my characters are, no matter what they are doing, in a way that seems real to the readers, and that they'll picture in their minds what I'm seeing in mine.

In my Rocky Bluff P.D. series, the setting is a fictional small beach community much like others on the Southern California coast. Usually there are no weather extremes--except for fog. Fog masks a lot when it creeps in from the ocean. It can hide buildings and people. And it certainly complicates police work.

Because Rocky Bluff is next to the ocean, the air smells salty. Sand ruins lawns and drifts into houses. 

The sound of the surf can be heard by anyone near the beach.

One thing I've noticed with some new writers is forgetting to let the reader know where conversations are taking place. If the exchange of dialogue is going on inside someone's house, the reader would like to know what that room looks like. What kind of room, the furnishings, the decorations or lack of, the neatness or the sloppiness, can also be clues to the personality of the character(s) who live there. Once again, don't forget the smells--every house has it's own smell.

I like to take photos of places that are similar to or remind me of my vision of Rocky Bluff. Looking at these photographs helps put me into the places I need to be when writing about the characters who live and work in Rocky Bluff.

For instance:

A neighborhood in Rocky Bluff.

Another neighborhood.

And of course the ocean itself--it plays a big part in my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery, Murder in the Worst Degree, coming in March.

Here's the blurb:

The body that washes up on the beach leads Detectives Milligan and Zachary on a murder investigation that includes the victim’s family members, his housekeeper, three long-time friends, and a mystery woman.

Remember, let the reader see, hear, feel, taste and smell right along with your characters.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith


I like to "see" what the characters in a novel are seeing. Sense of place is important to me as a reader and a writer to the extent it's often nearly a character itself.


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