When I put one of my characters in a place that they know, I always try to be aware of how they have informed it and how it informs them.
Maybe the character has bought all the things for that room, or at least chosen them. Or maybe the character has carried them in and failed to carry them out again. Maybe the floor where they always sit is scuffed from their shoes; perhaps the arm of the chair is shiny from years of their fingers moving across it. Or perhaps that crystal bowl on the shelf in the cabinet with the glass doors is a wedding present – from their first wedding, and the chip in it, was made by the character’s second spouse deliberately nicking it with a pair of pliers.
And when the character enters the room, or let’s say this time, the garden shed, the smell of creosote reminds them of the good times they spent with their father painting fences. And after they have fetched the pegs for the washing line and go back into the house, they are patient with their father for the first time in a week, and wipe his chin tenderly when he spills his food.
See how character can inform place and place can inform character?
Here’s an exercise to try it out.
Write down 20 unusual details of the room you’re in
Think you’re done? Write another 30. Get down to the miniscule
Have a character (one you’ve already written, or a new one), come into that room and notice one of those details for the first time, and write this as a short scene
Consider why they’ve only just noticed this detail. Who put it there / did it? How does it make them feel? Will they ever do anything about that detail?
- Claire Fuller
About the Author
Claire Fuller was born in Oxfordshire, England, in 1967. She gained a degree in sculpture from Winchester School of Art, but went on to have a long career in marketing and didn't start writing until she was forty. She has written three former novels: Our Endless Numbered Days, which won the Desmond Elliott Prize, Swimming Lessons, which was shortlisted for the RSL Encore Award, and Bitter Orange. She has an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester and lives in Hampshire with her husband and two children.