by Pat Phillips West
Writing about a specific place grounds your work in reality and adds depth. It helps with plot and provides a landscape that binds everything into context and meaning.
This month start by taking a field trip. Explore and take notes – lots of them – so that when you get home you can paint a picture for your readers. Add details to provide color and texture. Include whatever influence the weather adds. Weave your location in; make it integral to your story or poem.
The first line of a poem by Ted Kooser zooms in on a single place:
The Giant Slide
Beside the highway, the Giant Slide
with its rusty undulations lifts
out of the weeds.
Read the entire poem here.
In The Wind’s Twelve Quarters: Stories, Ursula K. LeGuin opens one story with a vivid description of setting. In three sentences, the reader can see this city.
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas
With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of
Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The ringing
of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between
houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown
gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public
buildings, processions moved.
Without a setting there is no story.
Possible field trip locations
- Amusement Park
- Art Gallery
- Buddhist Temple City Street
- Cheap Hotel
- Coffee shop
- Convention Center
- Dry Cleaners
- Hospital Waiting Room
- Park Bench Playground
- Pool Hall
- Post Office
- Sauvie Island
- Shoe Store
Pat Phillips West moved so often even her closest friends asked if she was in the Witness Protection Program. She refused to comment, except to say she’s in Portland, OR, for now. Her poems appear or will appear in Imagination & Place: Weather, Persimmon Tree, VoiceCatcher6, Manzanita Writers Press, San Pedro River Review and elsewhere.