In the two novels I’ve drafted over the past three years, one protagonist is in a place where he doesn’t belong, and the other lives where he very much belongs, but the neighborhood is crumbling around him and he’s powerless to stop it, and neither setting is one I’ve experienced directly.
Both stories take place during summer months, but where am I writing? Seated beside a space heater in a book-cluttered office, looking out at the wind-whipped snow. On the January morning I’m drafting this piece, local schools have posted a two-hour delay (a typical response to snow in Richmond, VA; I suppose the thinking is that commuter cars will thaw the ice before children venture out), but in the fictional worlds of my two drafts, my characters are dashing through July thunderstorms.
Does this disconnect keep me from writing? No. But it slows me down. I have to make myself get up and walk/jog/move around my office in ways my characters might move. I close my eyes and pretend I’m in a tee shirt, and when I run fingertips up my arm, instead of flannel PJs, I feel sweat and smell B.O., and my chlorine-drenched hair stiffens into green-tinged straw as it dries. I try my best to remember all the sensory details that make summer summer, like the fragrance of crepe myrtle in full bloom.
The goal, of course, is to write so well that readers, regardless of the season in which they pick up my novel, experience the setting vicariously. To do it right, first I have to experience the place vicariously myself. I’m not actually there any more than my readers are. Ahhh, the challenge of winter-writing summer scenes!
Smell the butter on that ear of corn? Well, no, but now… wait… the butter is dripping from my chin. It’s going down my thumb onto my wrist and I could reach for a napkin, but what’s the point? It’s going to drip again. Let me take another bite—where are the toothpicks? Get me some floss. Wish I’d put on more salt, but if I picked up the shaker now, I’d get it all buttery and I don’t want to do that, and…
All the best with your writing. Happy New Year 2018!
And thank you to Shannon Ranch for this wonderful photo of a girl eating corn on the cob!