Friday, January 06, 2012

Setting - Finding the Magic Anywhere

A depression-era circus, the Florida everglades, a dystopic future society, Nazi Germany - all settings of great books I've read in recent years.  What makes these books great, among many other things, is that they find the exotic, the magical or the deeper meaning in their settings and draw it out for the reader.  Traveling in your mind to another place or time is part of the appeal of fantasy, sci-fi and historical fiction.  But what if you aren't writing in those genres?

Karen Russell, whose novel and collection of short stories continues to fascinate me, has a gift for finding the magical in the places she writes about.  Her short story collection is chock full of locales that began as someplace fairly ordinary and evolved into someplace well beyond extra-ordinary.

Lately, I've set myself the challenge of finding the magical, the exotic, the eerie, the disturbing in the places I write about.  A backyard.  A city park.  A creek in Virginia.  An old house.  A playground.  The issue isn't whether I have traveled to exotic places, or chosen characters in some far-off place.  The issue is whether I can unveil the remarkable in the world around me, look beneath the surface, put on a new pair of lenses and see the world around me the way a writer should.


  1. I love when an author's setting surprises me. I recently read Dark Deeps by Arthur Slade and the entire book took place underwater (excellent book). I sometimes find it difficult to write a scene about a place I have never been. I agree that a writer should find the magical, the exotic etc. or risk losing readers. I set a goal this year to find the wonder in things like a child does and use this in my writing.

    This is first time I've heard of Karen Russell, I shall have to google her.

  2. Rena, thanks for joining the conversation. Russell's book SWAMPLANDIA has a lot of buzz right now, but to get the flavor of her writing, I recommend checking out her collection of short stories, ST LUCY'S HOME FOR GIRLS RAISED BY WOLVES.


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