“The tourist may look at a place and think ‘What does it do? What is it like? How much does it please me?’ but the fiction writer must look at a place and think ‘What does it suggest? What does it mean to me? What does it mean to my characters?’” Jack Hodgins
He suggests that in order to achieve this perspective, a writer needs to construct a place—“real or invented”—rather than describe it. By choosing specific details you both impress the landscape on your reader and connect them to the meaning of your world.
Here’s part one of an exercise I sometimes give my workshop students. Write a brief few sentences about a character hanging laundry on an outside line.
Seems pretty ordinary—perhaps even a little dull. At the moment it is only a beginning point of a possible reality giving perhaps character and place, but not yet a voice; and perhaps curiosity, but not yet an authentic emotional connection.
However I have yet to have any sentence even come close to matching another as
each writer chooses the unique aspects that interest them.
The character: boy, girl, man, woman, human or alien—what kind? Are they bored or anxious? Normal chore or forced labor?
Hangs laundry: how by old-fashioned string and clothes pegs, or by magic, or electronically? Is it a difficult chore or easy.
Outside line: where—isolated mountaintop, crowded slum, space ship balcony, or cookie cutter suburb? Is it dark outside or light? Windy or not?
The chosen detail for each key focus brings up several shapes to a simple sentence.
Exercise: Write a brief sentence or two, “A character goes outside to feed an animal.”
Share: Post your first sentence. Next week I’ll add the part two.