Character is a Place You Love

You know, Lynda, when I started to read your post Setting the Mood with Music, my heart hiccupped. Then, when I got to the part about the coincidences that were happening to you while you were in the Cape Cod town of Sandwich (that is fun to say), all these thoughts bubbled up inside me. Good thing it was my turn to post next or I might have had to hijack the site today.

Across the pond from Lynda

So let’s talk coincidence: Although I live on the West Coast, I am at this very minute only miles away from you, vacationing on Nantucket Island. We drove through Sandwich a week ago, the mayo, mustard, and lettuce jokes flying. We even passed a road sign announcing that we were near “Mashpee Sandwich.” I mean, a writer couldn’t invent something as good as that puppy. But anyway, here I am in Nantucket, doing the exact same thing as you…researching a future book. (Though not hanging out in prison, tempting as that may be.) I have zero plot, though. This is only for the Future File, but I do know that somehow, someway, a story of mine will be connected to this glorious island.

Ah, Nantucket...The perfect setting for a summer romance?

Nantucket is hardly new to the literary world. Many writers have used it as a setting for their books. In fact, I am looking forward to reading YA author Leila Howland’s NANTUCKET BLUE when it comes out next summer. But even so, I feel this place calling to me, and so I have to answer it. Like Jennifer Zeigler, author of SASS AND SERENDIPITY, said in last week’s joint interview with FALLING FOR HAMLET’s Michelle Ray, “There has to be ownership in what you write, even if you are borrowing elements from other sources.”

The more I write and read, the more I value setting as a character. So far, in my own writing, I have not really given it the importance it deserves. I think this is one of those things you learn as you grow and develop as a writer. So though I don’t have a plot, I do have my first character, and it exists in the crunch of discarded crab shells in the sand under my feet, on the long stretches of flat bike paths, in the full moon that casts a silver glow on the surface of the ocean, in the cold, hard glare of the snapping turtle we caught yesterday…or the…oh, okay, I’ll stop. A girl can get carried away in a place like this.

This fellow is inspiration for my next antagonist

I suggest to all writers that they don’t look at vacation as a rest stop again, because our job as a story teller never really goes on hiatus. Even if you don’t intend to use a particular place in your books, a nuance from a setting may pop into your head at a random but crucial point someday. And if you do plan to use a specific place, real details will give your writing unimaginable depth. Your next book, Lynda, sounds wonderfully dramatic. I believe that all books, no matter how serious, are made better when humor is added throughout—and certainly you’ve found instant fun in your description of that hilarious Sandwich Police car, if you decide to use it. If you hadn’t mentioned it in your post, and were I attempting to write about my own Sandwich, I would never in a million years have invented such a perfect detail. But don’t worry, I will leave that delicious location entirely to you, my dear, because I will be busy creating stories across the pond about Nantucket.

Living life to its fullest is the best research. Cheers!

Oh, I have to run now. It’s time to collect details about what brunch is like at the elegant, breezy White Elephant hotel. Alas, writing is SO hard sometimes.

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11 Comments

Filed under Research, Writing and Life

11 responses to “Character is a Place You Love

  1. I feel the pain, L.B., but I do hope you managed to get through that dreadful brunch experience without too much trauma. Other than feeling sympathy, though, I also got great pleasure out of reading your post and hearing about the cool things you are discovering about the setting you are in.

    I think that one of the things that made me a writer was the many, many road trips and camping trips my family took when I was a kid. We spent every summer running wild in the mountains, exploring old mining towns, hiking to alpine lakes, playing along creeks and in beaver ponds. We also spent several summers driving long distances, like from Colorado to Alaska and back. With no DVD player in the car, I entertained myself with hours of looking out the window and daydreaming about what the people who lived in all those different places were like. So in many ways, this deep experience of setting is at the heart of my story-telling.

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  2. L.B., your descriptions and photos are so evocative. I haven’t been to Nantucket since I was five, living in a rambling house for a summer with my sister and parents, eight first cousins, three aunts and uncles, and a stray Frenchman in the attic. And, you just brought all of this back. Thank you!

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  3. L.B. Schulman

    Hey, thanks, Cynthia and Jeannie! I wonder, can I write off all vacations? I mean, the brain never shuts down, ya know? C., sounds like a typical Nantucket adventure….many of the Sconset cottages are loaded to the max with people, probably because it’s so darn expensive to stay here. And J., your adventures camping sound amazing. Hey, this gives me an idea for your next book: what about a thriller about a family who has to escape from terrorists while camping? The only skills they can rely on are the ones their eight-year-old Brownie learned from her merit badges?! I can see it now….

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  4. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    Lisa!

    I love your post–makes me want to jump on a ferry and surprise you! And wouldn’t that be a surprsie–me showing up, notebook in hand. “Let’s talk Northeastern American summers.” Although it differs greatly from region to region–Cape Cod is very different than, say, Maine (which I also love). I am home now, but Cape Cod still calls to me.

    My husband and I took a trip to Nantucket pre-kids–rode bicycles all over the island. It is a beautiful place–especially the bluffs! On another note, did you know that “Jaws” was filmed in Martha’s Vineyard–a short ferry trip for you.

    I do hope, Lisa, that you experience some good ole-fashioned, writerly coincidences while you’re there that point you in the right direction!

    Looking forward to seeing pictures of your trip!?

    Lynda

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  5. L.B. Schulman

    Lynda, I wish you had come over! How fun would that be?! Apparently, I just missed Mike Jung who was hanging in Martha’s Vineyard a few weeks back. (Twilight music play here.) Oh, and my Aunt Laurie was a beach extra for Jaws…she survived. Glad you are home safely. Hope the inspiration comes flying out of your pen (or MacBook.)

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  6. Gorgeous photos, L.B.! I definitely think you should write off the trip as research! Hmmm, maybe my next book will be about a wealthy child heiress who takes an around-the-world cruise…

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    • Lynda Mullaly Hunt

      Natalie—I used to joke to Erin that I was going to set a book in Italy for that same reason. And look at YOU!!! 😉

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  7. Your post makes me think of what Eudora Welty wrote about setting, LB:

    “Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else… Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?…”

    Your advice about using vacation to mine the details of a new place with a fresh eye is wonderful. Although the setting of the book I’m working on now is VERY close to home, it’s so important to the story it’s practically a character. I’m glad your vacation is inspiring you! So fun!
    ~from another LB

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    • Hi LB! 😉 What a great quote. Thank you for sharing it. My next book is also close to home. But a small part of it takes place in a Vermont town, and now I recognize how important it is to research the area to get the details needed to make it seem real. I hope you go on vacation soon, Leslie, so you can gather new information, too. 🙂

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  8. I think the feeling you get from a place is as important as the details. I haven’t been to Florence since I was a teen, yet when it came time to send my Hamlet and Ophelia on a vacation, my memories of the romance of the place and the views I loved called to me. I had to look up some images online to get the details right, but the pull to that place and the emotions and wonder it evoked were true and brought out a passion I couldn’t have matched for other places. On the flip side, having to write about places I don’t know can pose such a challenge that I feel a real disconnect and be stifled.

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    • Hi Michelle. I’ve discovered that YouTube is a great, quick resource for seeing a place so you can try and get some of that elusive emotion that you mentioned, even if you haven’t been there in person. Just search for Nantucket and you will see why I love it so much! Italy, though, brings more emotions to the plate than any place I’ve ever been to before. I know just what you mean about Florence. Oh, to go back…..

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