The importance of place for writers and our characters
In honor of my poetry book, The Dragon & The Dragonfly, coming out next week, I wanted to share a poem from the book.
I wrote this poem last year as I was trying to find my footing after my husband died in 2015. It’s a poem about finding my place in the world again.
Writing and reflecting about place made me think about its meaning for us as writers and storytellers.
Place is an integral part of our daily lives and of the lives of our characters, but how often do we really think about our places and what they say about us?
All This Blue
At the casino hotel, I set up my computer
near the stone fireplace while you arrange
candles on the mantel, tease the barkeep
over club soda and bitters.
At Barnes and Noble, I finger pages
of new fiction while you devour books
on everything from Android apps
to Taoist secrets of love.
At the coffee shop, I scribble poems
about endings, not realizing these words
are the start of a long grief, while you read
quantum physics and chat with local police
in pressed blue uniforms.
Winters, we eat endless bowls of soup
at the Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse.
Summers, we lounge against Fay Bainbridge
driftwood, watch Salsbury Point fishermen.
After you die, I try go back
to our places. But I cannot find you
in the park, the clouds, or the sea.
I cannot find you in fireplace flames
or at the end of a fishing line.
But I do find you in the coffee shop—
in the calm of police uniforms,
in my words that grow strong again,
that find meaning in this place
where even time lies down
in the midst of all this blue.
Because I felt so unsafe and so untethered, it was important for me to have physical places to go where I felt safe and nurtured. I have several places now—most in nature—and, most importantly, I came to understand that the ultimate safe place is within me. I carry it wherever I go.
I started thinking about this theme in relation to being a writer and a storyteller.
Do you have a favorite place to write? Do you need certain objects around you? Do you need to have it quiet, do you listen to music, or do you prefer the background noise of a coffee shop?
And what about your characters in your stories—do they have places that have special meaning to them? Do they seek out certain places when they are feeling lonely or sad or in need of connection with others? Or do they stay in bed with the covers pulled up and the curtains drawn? What are the telling details of their places? Dark? Light? Is there water nearby or trees or do they prefer the noise and pandemonium of the local mall?
In my work-in-progress, my protagonist Caitlin feels more at home among the wild animals of the forest then among the people of her hometown. I didn’t choose this for her randomly but because of her backstory and her special abilities. Who is your character and what are her relationships with the places around her?
Writing Exercise: For each question below, set a timer for eight minutes and write down the answer—the idea is to keep your pen moving without stopping, without getting your thinking brain involved.
• How important is place to you as a person?
• How important is place to you as a writer?
• How important is place to your character?
I’d love to hear about your discoveries in the comments below.