This weeks post is focusing on the importance of Locations in novels.
To put it as bluntly as possible, it’s really important. Developing a great setting is vital to plot and character growth. It can change the feel of an entire novel. For example, our heroic main character has discovered a legendary sword that will grant him the power to smite his enemies. But where does he find it? Could it be hidden in an ancient underground catacombs? Was it located in the royal armoury? Maybe it was found sitting on a table in the local tavern. The location can also tweak the storyline. If it was simply found in his local tavern, then it suggests fate wanted him to have the blade. If it’s sitting in the catacombs, then it’s going to be a struggle. He’ll need more than just fate on his side.
Now you have decided the location, it’s time to nut out the details. The best way to do this is to put yourself in your characters shoes. Look around the location. What does it look like. Is it nice? Perhaps the sun is shiny too brightly on this day. Next take a deep breath in. What does it smell like? Perhaps that river over there is stinking of fish or stagnant water. Not pleasant. How does it feel? Is the wind throwing some sand up or it could be starting to rain? And finally listen. What are those sounds? Birds, insects, the river slowly drifting out to sea? Maybe it’s silent. Strangely silent. It’s unnerving. The only sound is your hero’s steps on the dirt road.
The last factor is the hardest. Finding the balance between not enough detail and too much. Not enough detail and you risk losing or confusing your reader. Making reference to the river only when he utilises it to make his escape from the undead leaves the reader wondering what else has been missed. On the other side of the spectrum is too much details. Prattling on for pages about how this river flows from a city high in the mountains, collects in a small lake before continuing to the ocean, listing the four types of fish found in the river and the thirteen plants that can be found growing along it’s edge, how it freezes over in winter and the village folk love iceskating on it. Then going into intimate details about the sounds, swirls, flow and reflections can easily put a reader to sleep. They will start skipping paragraphs trying to get back to the action. It breaks the reader out of the universe and ruins the tension of the moment.
My tactic is to pick out the really important locations and try to space the description out with dialog or have the characters themselves talk about their experience. Either way about a paragraph of description is best. It’s enough to purvey the atmosphere and build the tension of the scene while still keeping the reader enthralled.