The World Around Us

I find the world to be a fascinating place. Over the past few days, I’ve been talking to some friends that live in climates far colder than where I reside, hearing how to them snow is just an everyday occurrence, and that things like puddles can freeze as a regular thing – it’s actually awe-inspiring to me. I do have that inclination, though. My wife often catches me staring at a sunset with a goofy smile on my face, absorbing the beauty of the world.

Yeah, it’s going to be one of those posts. BYO puke bucket.

I can lay in the park and watch golden leaves fall from the trees, scattered by the wind like nature’s confetti. The same happened the other day near home, standing out on the road while the light bounced through the trees, and the leaves fell. I thought “Wow, what an amazing sight.” Yet that’s it, right there. Through a camera, even trying to bring out the aspects I perceived, it doesn’t seem like anything special. It doesn’t work any better in video, and while interesting in a way, the colour is off even without the filters.

It was in November last year that I was at the bank, and they were showing some kind of ‘Earth” video on their superfluous TVs – a place from every country in the world. Deserts, jungles, waterfalls, tundra, cities, everything. It was fascinating to watch, seeing places that feel alien or outside our experiences, but that are there as part of this same planet. Amazing, beautiful places. Not everyone sees the Earth that way, but when you write, you need to see your created world that way. Each of the settings I write in could host dozens of stories, though I don’t know all the details but I know how they feel.

When I’m writing, I love the swelling feeling that comes with visualising a place. There’s many different ways to handle description of the environment; some people lovingly place every brick of their protagonist’s home, and others just let you assume the abode has the same things every home has unless their explicitly absent. I’m an awful middle-of-the-roader – I tend to go for broad strokes, with just those few little flecks that accent the painting. I suppose I do the same approach for characters, drilling down into minor details that mightn’t matter to accompany those that do – all in the name of creating a tone.

If your setting is merely a footnote, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s just a city that doesn’t even need a name. Mention a too-full rubbish bin with a halo of spent cigarettes around it, and it’s a touch that grounds it in a kind of reality. If you’re going against convention or if the setting is important (perhaps almost a character in its own right), then you not only need to describe it in your preferred style, but fall in love with it. See the beauty, even in the mundane, and the atmosphere will be better for it. Watch a film without particular exciting subject matter, and pay attention to the composition of the scene – none of it is accidental. It’s all there because someone thought it should be there.

It’s not just the words that should be there in your writing. It’s the characters, the places and the ideas that need to belong.

It also occurs to me that my approach capitalises on a simple fact – when you write, you’re renting a space in your reader’s mind. They will add the details you don’t supply.

2 thoughts on “The World Around Us

  1. Your note about watching a movie for the setting reminded me of something I had heard about Back to the Future. Apparently, there was a big fuss a while after the movie came out because the set designers had just thrown some magazines into Marty’s bedroom, and one of them happened to be RQ: Reference Quarterly (a magazine for librarians). No one noticed until the movie had been out for quite some time, but now that it’s been pointed out to me, I see it every time. Maybe Marty had a secret dream to be a librarian… Great post!

    1. That’s so cool – Marty, the closest librarian-wannabe! Maybe inspired by his dad’s then-failed attempts to be an author. That reminds me of a more-intentional one in Lord of the Rings. I remember reading how a lot of the armour/weaponry that were created as props for characters like Theoden had all this history to them, which helped them feel a bit more like their character, instead of some dude playing dress-up.

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