Sunday, February 01, 2009

Reality Gets In The Way

Despite the ear screeching, teeth chattering, finger numbing cold, I went out on a research mission yesterday, a location visit. There are a number of places in London that feature in my novel and it was time to go out there and check the layout of the land.

A novel normally contains a number of locations: cities, suburbs, streets, establishments. Although keeping to the reality of the chosen location is not necessarily key (a certain degree of artistic licence is allowed and sometimes required), you can avoid glaring mistakes by embarking on a field trip.

This field trip can be performed before (advised) or after (lazy) writing about the location. My novel is set in London, so obviously, as I live there, I have a fair degree of knowledge about the area, allowing me to write reasonably freely about it, especially in my first draft. However, there are certain areas, boroughs, tube stops, used throughout the book that I do not frequent and until yesterday, their detail has been guessed at. Sure, not bothering to check the locations before commencing the novel is a bit lazy, but sometimes its better to keep writing then to wait until you can find time to visit a location to confirm the detail. Finishing that first draft is key.

That said, heading off on my field trip after the fact created a few problems, most notably, discovering that a number of key scenes in my novel had been scuppered by the reality of the landscape. The position of buildings, the frequency of traffic, the layout of roads - all these things created holes the size of the O2 centre in these scenes.

It's not a deal breaker and it shouldn't change a thing, except that I will be required to insert a bit more ambiguity into the location - again, the use of artistic licence means that the detail of a location only needs to be seen as possible, it doesn't have to be reality (although, there will always be someone out there who will pick you up on the differences). At first I was disheartened by the discovery of inconsistencies in my novel, but then later, I decided to change the location slightly, move it further inland, shift a few buildings around and bang! things are back on track. As I said, it's not a deal breaker, but it always pays to know that the differences exist.

Checking out your chosen location can send you back to the drawing board, but in the end, you are the master of your fictional world, and knowing the detail of the location allows you to make changes within the realms of possibility, reality be damned.

On the flip side, checking out your location can also allow you to add texture to your prose and give you confidence in your writing, giving you comfort in the knowledge that you know the detail of your location and can tweak it as you see fit, within the blurred borders of reality. Field trips are definitely advised and remember, they are tax deductible!

Yesterday's itinerary: Shoreditch, Bow Common, Limehouse and Hoxton.


Scarlett Parrish said...

Hello. :D

I didn't want to leave a comment on your most recent post as it would seem disrespectful to such a serious matter, but here I am; you-know-who.

You should be able to get to my profile through this comment and from thence my new blog.

(I'll add you to my blogroll by the way).

My word verification was 'sping'...and that made me laugh.

Sarah Higgins said...

Ah those damned plotholes!

I will have to do the same when I can get away from the art and back to the writing - apparently there is a lack of sense of place in my novel so I need to walk the streets myself (in the nicest possible way) and find some texture of my own.

Good blog.

Daryl said...

Thanks Sarah. Visiting the location definitely gives you an uplift, a more tangible sense of place, even if it is only in your mind to begin with.

Still a difficult task, to capture what a country, city or town is like, what it means to live there, what are the things only a local would know, and then to integrate it into your novel without making it sound like a travel book.

Difficult but rewarding too.

If you haven't already, have a look at Roger Ellory's special on BBC that he did when he visited Washington D.C. - the setting for his latest, A Simple Act of Violence. Apparently it was the first time he visited the place and that was after finishing his book. Goes to show that you don't actually have to go there to get it right. It must have been satisfying for Roger to visit D.C. and discover that he did get it right!

Here's the link:

The painting is looking brilliant by the way!!