Time and Place

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been summarizing chapters from Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel. As far as books about writing, this is a must have. It gives good insight on writing and what it takes to “breakout”. 

For time and place, Maass stresses the importance of putting these assets to work in a novel. Both need to bring depth and substance to a scene. It’s not enough to describe a setting in order to put things in perspective for the character, but it’s supposed to give the reader some information on the world they’ve entered. Same goes for time; it’s an opportunity to comment on social and political themes and not be heavy-handed.

A couple of interesting tips I picked about time and place. In order to make place matter, have the main character have a psychological or emotional tie. Does a place bring back good/ bad memories for a character? How does it make them feel when they hear the word of the place? Answer those questions and place suddenly takes on a different meaning. Just line listing attributes to a place is boring. I should know, I did it in my first novel. I was hell-bent on describing the weather, the furniture, the architecture, etc. What did it mean to the character? I have no clue. I do know that the setting was taking up space and not working for my novel.

Maass’ insight on time is also valuable. He encourages writers to convey the sense of the times. Avoid the pitfall of just describing that it’s 1942 and the US is at war. It’s important but what does it add to a story? I would guess if the character worked at ammunition factory to help support the war while her husband served in the Europe: That paints a picture and readers will have sense of the times not just an arbitrary date.

The points I’ve summarized might be obvious for established writers, but to me, it confirms what I’ve thought but never to ventured to write. Tying both time and place to the character moves the story forward with out slowing down the pace of the novel.


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