Know thy place

Yesterday I read a passage in an essay by Barbara Kingsolver that I’d like to share, since it got me thinking about writing about place:

Several summers ago on a cabin porch, surrounded by summertime yard sales and tobacco auctions, I wrote about Africa . . . I wrote long and hard and well until I ended each day panting and exhilerated, like a marathon runner. I wrote about a faraway place that I once knew well, long ago, and I have visted more recently on research trips, and whose history and particulars I read about in books until I dreamed in the language of elephants. I didn’t need to be in Africa as I wrote that book . . .

Barbara Kingsolver, ” Knowing our place” in Small wonder, Faber and Faber, 2002

How important is it to visit the places you write about? Is reading about a place enough to give you a good feel for it? Can you recreate atmosphere from a book? If you’ve never been to France or Persia, can you write confidently and convincingly about them?


About Sharon

Writer, bibliophile, dreamer and student of everything
This entry was posted in Ideas & imaginings, ME ON WRITING and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Know thy place

  1. dianegallant says:

    Obviously it’s much better to be able to visit the place you’re writing about. But then there are historical novelists who don’t have the opportunity to visit their “country” (the past is more distant than the farthest foreign land) and who must rely on research and imagination. Also, there are writers of fantasy and science fiction who must invent their setting, which is usually all-important in those genres. So I guess it depends what you’re writing.

  2. drtombibey says:

    I had a patient I made house calls on for years. She was had been paralyzed from the neck down since a teenager.

    She loved the Internet and talked to friends all over the world. When she would describe Scotland you’d swear she’d been there, yet I know for a fact she had not left her house in a half century when she died.

    In spite of her ‘disablity’ (she would not let you call it that) the woman never had a bad day. I used to tell she’d been to more countries than I ever dreamed of and she’d just smile, ’cause she knew it was true.

    Dr. B

    • Dr B
      Paralysis affects the limbs, but rarely the mind. In a way the mind becomes more mobile when the body can’t be. I say this with confidence as my mother had polio when she was very young and started using a wheelchair in her 30’s. My mother could run a marathon just using the power of her mind.

  3. jenniferneri says:

    If I go somewhere in a story I have never been, I keep the scene small and superficial, in the sense that I am only there for the purpose that my story brought me there, and I do not explore.

  4. Depends on your imagination – how good it is.

  5. kaefka says:

    I’m sure you can, but the only person you won’t fool is yourself. But that may be enough for some!

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