Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Location, location, location.

Fine tuning your fiction.

An friend of mine who runs a small and successful business has told me there are three secrets of success. You must have the right location before you can succeed. I did not stop to think of the ways location could play an important part in literature until I entered a short story contest. The contest promised a short critique on each story, which seemed to be more than worth the effort. I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of the editor’s evaluation of my short piece of flash fiction, but was puzzled over one comment at the end of the paragraph. He said, “Wouldn’t this story have been better if you had set it in Seattle?”

I read and reread the story and still couldn’t get the point. Like all flash fiction, the story was rather lean, the scene happening on a street corner that could have been anywhere, USA. I have never been to Seattle. The longer I thought about the editor’s suggestion, the more I realized that even in short fiction, location can be extremely important. Here is a place where we can bring vibrant reality to a scene—even a short one—with a sentence or less. Take the following situations:

[A man senses danger as he pulls to the side of the road to examine a flat tire.] He closed the car door with a soft click that was barely audible above the faint sighing of the wind from the bayou.

Or: The thin sliver of the moon slid behind the clouds, but in the brief instant, he could see the barren landscape stretching toward the horizon.

We experience the world through our five senses. It is astonishing how seldom we employ smells, texture, and taste to our stories. You can, in fact, read through an entire book and find little except what the characters see and hear. The rich odor of food in a Chinatown restaurant, the taste of fresh artic snow on our lips, or the texture of an expensive fabric can awaken emotions and set a scene more than an entire chapter of dry dialogue or dull narrative.

1 comment:

The Belle in Blue said...

I worry sometimes that I'm limited in my settings because I haven't traveled extensively, but then I remember that I live in the American South, the richest, most vibrant setting in the world. ;-)

You have me curious now. I really want to know what that editor meant about Seattle!