Blog #2: Time and Place
Since beginning my ‘Novels After Fifty’, I’ve learned several valuable lessons. Lessons that writers of all ages can appreciate. The first being, if your book is specific to a certain “Time and Place”, take time to do the research. Resources abound in today’s world. Thanks to Google, historical newspapers, the National Archive, and City Hall web pages. Even Google Earth can give you a real time visual of a faraway place that you wish to write about. I can visit a place that I lived for a year in North Wales in 1970 – the house is still there and looks quite the same. Amazing technology that this over fifty man didn’t have In 1977, when I began writing. I had to – (and you’ve probable heard this all before) – to go to my public library to do all my research. School work and personal writings were researched this way; thumbing through old index cards housed in rows and rows of drawers. Searching for that one book that held the pertinent information I needed.
Say you are an artist and you are painting a landscape of a specific place and time. You’d want to include as much detail as you can. so that the viewer can perceive the painting as you intended. In your book you’d want the words to describe to the reader the environment your characters resides in. Your colorfully painted characters can not live well in a black and white, or under constructed, world. It doesn’t do them justice. Take the time to bring the landscape up to the color palate of the people who live in it.
I relate it, also, to one of my favorite places to visit. A train park in Scottsdale, Arizona. The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park. The model train exhibit, in a large building, houses the works of several model railroad club. They have been building their layouts for many years. There are HO gauge, O gauge, N gauge, and Z gauge. My daughter and I have our favorite in the HO gauge. My father and I built an HO gauge railroad set up on an 8’ X 4’ sheet of plywood. We bolted castor wheels on it so that I could roll it under my bed.
The various club have built amazing landscapes for their railroads. They depict different places of Arizona and of certain time periods. They meticulously use plaster scenery base, extruded foam, cast plaster rock moldings, and heavy corrugated cardboard to form mountains, hills, and rocks formations. Then, painting and adorning the structures with realistic miniature model trees and shrubs, the scenery is brought to life. The streets that cut through the little towns are adorned with houses, banks, gas stations, and other buildings. The miniature model cars, people, dogs, cats, sheep, horses and cattle bring an air of livelihood to the picture. Then trough it all is the working model railroad system that bustles throughout. All these things make it a realistic and snapshot of a place and time. No matter how insignificant the scenery is alone, in the workings of the model railroad it is pleasing to the eye and is relatable to the viewer. It gives it a finished or polished look.
I took the idea of building the model railroad scenery and applied it to the structure of the books I’m writing. My place and Time is the farmlands and town-hoods of Southern Illinois, 1906.
The farmlands of Southern Illinois are filled with crops of varying shades of greens, yellows and browns. The barns with their bright red paint and white trimming. The green tractors. The house painted a golden yellow and white-sashed-windows. The new corrugated metal of the silo a shimmering silver. The dusty road, straight and narrow, has a rusty-brown haze that lingers just above the surface as the old Model N rambles by. The trees. The shrubs. The animals of the farm and ones that run wild in the fields and the nearby woods. These are all a part of the embellishments of the story. The things that give the characters a solid surface from which to exist.
I wanted to give the reader those details so that they have the full picture. After all, we are talking about Southern Illinois, 1906 – not Philadelphia, 1776, as an example. Philadelphia, 1776, creates imagery of the founding fathers adopting the declaration of independence. Southern Illinois, 1906 may not give the reader too much to go on at first. There may not be an immediately mental image created in the mind. So – I delved into researching Southern Illinois, 1906. I was able to create a decent depiction of that particular time and place.
Note: I do have some recollection of Southern Illinois from childhood. My family visited Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins several times growing up. Though that wouldn’t help with the “Time Period” part of the novels it certainly helped with the place part. The charm of the people and the allure of the checker-boarded farmlands. Many of the old town-hood structures, city halls, court buildings, museums, still remain from those early times.
As I researched Southern Illinois, I found, nestled in those farmlands, these small towns with rich histories of their own. I, as an avid reader, enjoyed the research just as much as the writing. And as I researched I found that each town had unique characteristics. It was important to capture these Landmarks with the respect they deserve. like the characters that resided in them. After all, The devil is in the details.
Now, if your time and place are both non-existent – like some fantasy and Sci-Fi – then your work is cut out for you as well. Without any references to reality for the reader to draw from – you have to paint a picture from scratch. Having said that, I realize that if you watch as much sci-fi TV as I do you will notice some planets resemble Earth. Uncanny. Yet, the devil is still in those details.
Once I had established the T&P, I then added the fantasy. This is taken from the Protagonists’ odd talent (without giving away too much now – as it isn’t relevant). The “unbelievable” became the fantasy and the place and time remains the “believable”. Creating A Fantasy with its roots in history. American history.
Now that I have my time and place established, and the nature of the characters and the fantasy element – I needed to slice my idea into scenes. (like the scenes of a film, TV show or play, the place where a particular incident has occurred). Before I began to write the actual book – I laid out the entire book into scenes – crazy, huh. This truly helped me later on. Each scene written out in a few paragraphs including some essential dialogue. This was the moment when I realized that a trilogy would be the best course in unraveling this tale. The dotted lines that divided up the trilogy are cut along the three separate regions of the Protagonist’s journey.
Having my story concept, the place and time, character development, fantasy element, and the scenes – it was time to divide the book into chapters. Some chapters have more scenes than others, and others just one. An editor may tell me to rearrange my scenes alternatively but for now – I’m comfortable with how I sliced the meat.
In my next blog I want to talk about dialogue.
Thank you and keep chipping away at the stone.
Blog #3: Talk about Dialogue