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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Sense of Place (Part 1)

I admit that I’m drawn to character driven novels vs. plot-driven ones, although I love a good mystery or suspense for a change of pace. In my own writing, I tend to come up with characters and a premise before I create plots, but the plot comes out in the actual writing.

Lately, though, I’ve been pondering (which can be a dangerous thing) why even certain character driven novels fail to make a connection with me. I’m an average reader (one book per week usually) and read a variety of genres, but so many books I wade through are laborious and leave me feeling as if an ingredient is missing. They may have intriguing or quirky characters and an interesting premise, but just don’t deliver the a-ha that I love in a novel. I want to give readers the best possible experience so I’ve begun picking apart what works and what doesn’t.

Fortunately, in the past couple of months, I have read several books that have delivered that bit of lagniappe, which a local newspaper columnist here calls “that little something extra.” A bonus. A gift.

This is a dimension, I believe, that comes from the heart and intense effort of the writer and cannot be learned through the study of craft books (which you all know I’m an advocate of). And what I’ve tried to decipher is, what makes certain books stand out and soar above the others?

I think I’ve found the answer. Or at least part of it. It’s the sense of place. Being grounded in a world that is alive and magical (although not a fantasy world for me) and rings with authenticity.

The sense of place is not one that is listed in the five senses that authors must use to engage the reader, but sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch—when done right—provide that sixth sense—the sense of place. I’m not talking about long paragraphs of description or flowery language, but precise details, dialogue, and actions that support the characters and their dilemmas. I’m unable to imagine the stories in any place other than where the authors set them because they’ve made the settings (and sense of place) so strong that they’ve become another character in the story.

So, each Wednesday for the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some thoughts about these books. Not reviews, per se, but what gave these novels a sense of place and why I can’t get them out of my head.

Curious about what novels I’m talking about? Check in next week, and I’ll have the first one ready for your tasting and reading pleasure here at the Café.


Erica Vetsch said...

This sounds wonderful, Carla. I can't wait to read next Wednesday's post.

The Koala Bear Writer said...

Interesting thought! Yet I think you are right about sense of place being key to a novel. I'll be checking back for more... :)

Anonymous said...

You've got me interested!