Saturday, March 10, 2012

Capturing Atmosphere and Details

Hub Stacey's

Since I'm sitting on the deck looking out at a tidal slew in Florida, the mood and atmosphere are quite different from the one I'm used to. Here things are more relaxed, dress is more casual, and the air holds a hint of saltwater. Even the light is different. This is Central time, so TV programs start earlier; it's light at 6 a.m. and warm enough to have coffee outside then.  Sometimes the Blue Angels fly over.
A great blue heron has a nest next door and flies along the water, sometimes splashing down to fish. Pelicans skim the water, occasionally diving, or they come to rest on the pilings. They gather at the water's edge in small groups.
These things make a difference in a story. Research matters. We went to lunch at Hub Stacy's, a rustic wood structure on the water. Spanish moss, a tree I think is a type of magnolia, and of course the live oaks shelter the deck where we had wonderful Reuben sandwiches. The people who showed up brought their dogs, wore flip flops and shorts, and knew the waitress, so I assume they're locals. Weathered men with a white German shepherd unloaded fishing gear and stowed it in their boat. The dog was clearly familiar with the process and leapt into the boat as they backed it into the water.
If it isn't possible to visit a place you're writing about, try to find someone who lives there or who's been recently to answer questions for you.
Setting can be a strong influence on the characters and the way a plot unfolds. Weather often plays a part. When I wrote Cold Comfort, I visited Williamsburg, McClellanville, and Washington, but there were many things I didn't know. I found someone in an online group who lived outside Washington and helped me with traffic patterns and some of the areas I wanted to include. She told me what locals call features such as the Key bridge.
Now of course I want to set something in this area, the Florida panhandle. It's beautiful and quite different from upstate South Carolina, which has its own kind of beauty. 


Sandy Cody said...

Great post and a timely reminder. I'm starting a new book and have the main plot in mind, but so far the draft is thin on the things that make a story come alive.

This blot is always a good source of advice when I need it.

Sandy Cody said...

Ug! I meant "blog" not "blot" - I'm a terrible proofreader.

Una Tiers said...

Hi Ellis:
Your description was so vivid I think I heard a fish splash in the water.
Una Tiers

Ellis Vidler said...

Sandy, isn't amazing how the typos only show up after you hit Post?
Being here reminds me of the importance of details too. Seeing new things reminds me of the ones I no longer notice at home.

Ellis Vidler said...

Una, I just went outside to see a pelican on the deck. As I got closer, he seemed to relax and settle down, then when I started back, he flew to a piling to pose a little more. I told him I'd put him on Facebook and make him a star. LOL

Polly said...

I'm jealous. I'll be down for breakfast.

Ellis Vidler said...

It's fun here, Polly. seafood, casual, a lovely deck, great dogs, and the Internet. What more could you ask?

Kevin Hanrahan said...

Great post Ellis...and so true. I'm dabbling with my 2d novel and unlike my first will include places I've never laid eyes on..... it is very hard to describe. It just seems so fabricated.

Ellis Vidler said...

Kevin, if you remember to work the description in with the characters' actions, it will seem more natural. Instead of saying The road was littered with stones, you could have someone walk with difficulty or trip over a stone. Make movies instead of still life pictures. :-)