Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Entry # 66 - "Establishing Setting: More Than 'JUST' A Place"

Setting for a work of fiction or nonfiction requires careful attention to the specifics of “PLACE and TIME,” if the work is to establish credibility and connect with readers.  I wrote about this in several recent posts and I continue to think about it. 

HARBORSCAPE_ Leaving Dublin - May 2012 - Jan Bowman
Eudora Welty wrote two useful essays on both Time and Place in her book, The Eye of the StoryWelty said that, Being shown how to locate, to place, any account is what does most toward making us believe it, not merely allowing us to, whether the account be the facts or a lie; and that is where place in fiction comes in.  Fiction is a lie.”   But if fiction is an imaginary untruth, nonfiction is not altogether the truth.

Nonfiction describes truths, but these are filtered through an opaque glass of inexact memory that tends to distort. For example, if my sister and I describe the same childhood events, we both believe we give truth, but our focus, our memory, our perspective is different.  But ironically, fiction carries the deepest human truths under the surface, and nonfiction’s truth is fractured below the surface by the narrator’s memory reconstruction.  Welty says, “Fiction is a lie. BUT never in inside thoughts, but always on its outside dress.”   Which is to say that while fiction is imagined, the reality and truth that holds the reader in belief, is a reality that establishes a ‘place’ for the reader to stand and connect to events.  
CITYSCAPE - Leaving NYC - May 2012 - Jan Bowman

Writers must give readers a place to stand early in fiction and nonfiction.  It is an essential component in the writing process.    Having said this as background, I have read several unpublished stories recently for a writing class, and one of the ongoing problems with these otherwise strong stories lies in the slippery beginning. The sense of a story closes out the reader, when the visibility of place is only partial or intermittent, and it unnecessarily challenges the reader before the reader is fully engaged. That’s a good way to lose your reader.  And if your reader is an editor that you hope will publish your work, you will not likely get them to page three where the reader will finally “figure it out.”

Welty said that “…fiction depends for its life on place. Location is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of ‘What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?’ and that is the heart’s field.”

Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:

No comments:

Post a Comment