Monday, September 01, 2014

Landscape as a Character in Fiction

One of the things that struck me when first reading the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle is how nineteenth century London served as a character in most of them. The city, its traditions and sights, its size and its underbelly of criminality all loomed large.

The TV series rebooting the old stories, Sherlock, successfully duplicates that.

And the Law and Order TV franchise sees New York City appear as a "character" in each episode.

Landscape and locale are anchors that make works of fiction come alive.

In his latest Writerly Witterings video, crime fiction writer Michael Jecks talks about what he does to ensure that the fourteenth century Dartmoor landscapes of his novels are part of the story. Most of us aren't blessed with the many talents Jecks possesses--things like sketching and painting, which he uses to help him create the settings for his fiction. But it's interesting to learn about some of the work that goes into his writing.

Jecks' point about not getting too specific in the description of landscapes or other "props" is interesting, as most "how to" pieces about writing fiction seem to include the command to "be specific." Don't say that it was a hot day, the fiction gurus says, give the temperature and note its effect on people. Don't say it was evening, but give a sense of the darkness of it.

But Jecks, it seems to me, is onto something.

Best-selling crime novelist Agatha Christie was and still is often panned for what is seen as a lax and superficial approach to character development. But I've often found that Christie's refusal to dig too deeply into the characters that populate her stories allows me to imagine much more, like the radio shows Jecks refers to in the video. As her stories unfold, the reader becomes a collaborator with Christie in what Hunter S. Thompson, speaking of Bob Dylan's lyrics, once called "democratic art."

Anyway, enjoy Jecks's video.

[By the way, I love the way Brits say, "ennathing."]

No comments: