The Layers of Writing – Part 1. Where

It is a nice idea to just have a seat, take a pen, reach for a paper and then write a masterpiece that takes the souls of the readers. However, everyone who tried writing and does not suffer from a narcissistic disorder has realized a shocking fact. Writing is not an easy thing. Just like any kind of job, it requires focus and skill that comes from a lot of practice.

The problem is that writing seems to be easy and not demanding. Writers often get depressed when they feel this simple act of putting some words together is not working as they imagine it should. The reason? It is not just smashing some nouns, verbs, and other linguistic life forms together. To prove that, this series of four articles will show how layered and complex the process of writing actually is and how the writer’s mind is constantly doing a multitasking job. Writing a story can be separated into four parts: Where, Who, What, and How. This article deals with the Where.

The characters cannot just float in a vacuum and the plot needs to thicken somewhere. This large layer of writing is the location of the story, the literal place where it all happens. Even if you write about someone lost in nothingness and darkness, well, you still need to devote a part of your attention to this nothing in order to make the reader feel it.

Keeping the details about the places consistent is one part of the net that keeps the novel together. Minor slips, like changing a name of the street in a brief dialogue, or forgetting about the large tree in the park under which the character’s children played for half a book is not a big deal. However, if the main villain miraculously skips half of the city during the grand finale chase, or when a ship drops anchor in a town that was by no means described as having access to the sea, the readers are not going to be happy. Confusion and a shrug of shoulders is the best the author can hope for. It can also result in putting the book down immediately, or even in a not so nice online review.

This layer might be particularly challenging because it often requires a lot of time spent on research, map drawing, or even consulting experts.

The unfortunate authors who decided to set their work in some historical period know the pain of slushing through a pile of publications that deal with the subject. The countless online bookmarks of visited web pages, or the time spent watching documentaries is another part of the process. And all this effort worth hours and hours is manifested in lines that take minutes to write. Unless, of course, you decide to ignore facts and just make something up. But beware, placing Stonehenge in France is not a good idea.

The actual history is at least documented. But what if you decide to create a world of your own? Brilliant, you have much more freedom! But … here we go again, hours need to be spent not only studying, but downright forming fictional locations with all the details that fit and the whole new world makes at least some sense. Once again, also the fictional worlds need to rely on reality as inspiration comes from our world and history. Hence, research again. And may your own fictional gods protect you if you decide to change the setting of magical forest to an ancient desert after writing 100k of the story.

Are you patting yourself on your shoulder for writing a short fiction taking place in an ordinary world set in our time? Well, bad news, your writer brain is still occupied with this layer, no matter what. You still should keep in mind the small map of where the plot is taking place. It is needed to count the distances, estimate the times of travels, do not accidentally erase that important crossroad, and remember there is a dangerous cliff right in front of the cave.

Another part of working on any layer is the amount. It is important to keep the descriptions from getting long and boring. The novel should not be an encyclopedia where an occasional line of dialogue appears. Also, It is a great feeling to come up with a beautiful cafe with an aquarium with a shark, however, it is probably for the best not to make the characters visit every ten pages. Therefore, the writers have in mind a big slice of a universe while writing, yet they must use it as a base that only protrudes through the other layers.

The choice of the location is important as well. The right selection can enhance the whole scene, since a cosy library, or a cold cellar have a very different atmosphere and this has an influence on the reader and the characters alike. Thus, the where of the story is not only about stating the facts about the location, it has a direct effect on the emotions as well.

See you soon in the articles about the What, Who and How.