A decade ago, I wrote a novel that contained a back story set in Dorset on the South Coast of England — a psychological thriller, told through the eyes of a narrator at the age of eight and as a young adult forced to come to terms with their past.
I had never visited Dorset, but I felt that the area with its countless beaches, cliffs, wooded areas, villages and acres of countryside would open up great potential for menace, paranoia and suspense in the story.
Instead, I struggled to construct a tight plot and convincing central character, and writing about an area that I didn’t know personally seemed to hinder my efforts.
After several attempts, I abandoned the novel and concentrated on projects set in the north of England, where I grew up. This time, the writing flowed and the characters came alive almost immediately.
Last summer, I visited Dorset for the first time. The area didn’t match my expectations in terms of what I’d written in regards to scene setting previously. I wondered about this recently and reached the following conclusion.
The back story came through the perspective of an eight-year-old child. In the novel, the eight-year-old protagonist reflects on ideal Dorset scenery before family events take a sinister turn and the same settings become oppressive and imprisoning. Places seem magical through the eyes of children. Children see things that adults don’t. When I arrived in Dorset, I observed the landscape through the eyes of an adult, not a child, and adults can often miss the magical feel of locations.
In fiction, the writer must make the place (scene setting) special in some way, even if it is bleak and dangerous. The writing should evoke images in the reader’s mind and invite them in – or, at least, attract their interest in the story and what will happen next.
I believe that employing a unique viewpoint plays a crucial role. The author conveys information through the viewpoint character, but they shouldn’t merely describe a location. The writer needs to paint a picture of the location from their own perspective, identifying details that another person would miss and linking these observations to emotions that intensify as the story arc develops.
The old Show, Don’t Tell. Or Live It, Don’t Describe It.
One day, perhaps, I will return to the original novel and polish it, but I don’t think setting scenes in Dorset will ever work for me.
Just a few of my thoughts.
Meanwhile, I’m working on poetry, several foreign languages (including Russian) and Beethoven piano sonatas that I hope to perform in public.
Till next time.