Importance of Place: Part 2

So I started a story. (Bear with me please, this does relate to the title and the previous post!) I wanted to try writing a contemporary romance, and I had several reasons for doing so: because so far I haven’t, to see if I could, for a challenge, for a change. . . because that’s what the competition wants! And just because the competition is my current goal doesn’t make my other reasons less valid; as a writer I enjoy trying out different genres, so far including historical romance, fantasy, dark, crime, and the plain weird, and entering competitions is one way I’ve found of encouraging myself to do that. To stretch my writing muscles, as it were. Whether or not I’m any good is, as they say, another question for another day.

Anyway, because there are so many romance novels and you have to try and come up with something original with a good ‘hook’, I thought one way to achieve that would be to have a different setting. Cities, countryside, other countries, it seems like it’s all been done. Several times over. I came up with – a garden. A really big estate/spend at least two hours walking around it type of garden. Possibly with an accompanying house but I hadn’t decided that yet. I was inspired. I started writing, faltered, struggled on, had a period of intense work, trailed off again, came to a complete halt. I decided the problem wasn’t exactly the story but rather the place it was set. It was a real place that I’d visited, but I couldn’t remember it well enough. Then I got the chance to visit it again. What perfect timing! Serendipitous even.

All went well – the trip was going ahead, I was going with family, it was so exciting! Until I got there. It was the same, but different, and I had to deal with the issues of the place not matching my memories of it. It wasn’t worse or less exactly, just really different. The conflict of story, memory and reality skewed my whole day out a bit actually, which was kind of sad.

Home again, and when I felt ready I turned on the laptop, loaded the file, read through my story and started making changes! Yes!! It had worked.

The next thing I knew I was consigning the whole thing to a file labelled ‘Discard’ (this instead of deleting it, just in case it might be useful later) and starting a new story. Over 4,000 words and who knows how many weeks, days and hours gone. So had my experiment worked? Did going to the actual location help?

Personally I think it did, because after I went there I could write again, I could make the decision that the idea just wouldn’t work in that form; it unstuck me. Perhaps using a garden in the first instance was my mistake. Apart from anything else it sort of spoilt the actual place for me, at least for the time being. My memory isn’t brilliant though, (as I have discovered!) so hopefully I will be able to enjoy it again when I next get to visit!

The moral of the post: place is important, in your writing, in real life. Sometimes changing the setting doesn’t change much, other times, things have to become something else entirely or it just won’t work. Also, perceptions and memories – accurate or not – can be strong, influential, stirring, inspiring, difficult and confusing. Often they are more than real life. But despite the holiday offered by a writer’s words, real life is what most of us have to come back to in the end.

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