In addition to plot and character, the most important element of fiction is creating a sense of place.
The same story with the same characters is perceived completely differently went placed in a different setting.
And often our connection to a favorite novel or film is more about the images and ambience of the place in which it is set than the thoughts and emotions evoked as it is told.
As often as Shakespeare is reset in 19th century upstate New York or San Francisco in the 1960’s, the true power of the plays remains reflective 17th Century Denmark or Padua.
In the same way that the tales written by William Faulkner and James Lee Burke define the deep South, Charles Willeford and Carl Haiisen epitomize Florida and Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy proscribe Los Angeles, everything we write is enormously enhanced when it is unapologetically “of” the place in which it is set.
For my money, a lot of the ongoing debate of what’s really “Canadian” about most Canadian TV or film is because we spend so much time hiding who we are and setting our shows in an “this could be anywhere” that might improve our marketing options but does little to advance either our own culture or the interest of anyone else in the world with who we are.
Place is never just an inert backdrop. It is home to the people telling your story and its mores and traditions and geographic demands are an essential part of both your characters’ humanity and the borders that contain and constrain your plot.
That’s because Place shapes every storyteller and illuminates everything he or she writes.
If you need a better understanding of that, find a copy of the Harry Crews (“A Feast of Snakes”, “Karate is a Thing of the Spirit”) biography, “A Childhood”. If nothing else, it will reveal why you write what you write –- and why you set those stories where you do.
It’s a topic further explored in filmmaker Thom Andersen’s “Los Angeles Plays Itself”, a lovingly created study of the most filmed city in the world.
Your creative career might take you to the furthest corners of the world and parts of society you never dreamed you might inhabit. But where you are from never leaves you and embracing it makes you better at what you do.
Enjoy Your Sunday.