When I write letters to my grandparents and great aunts who do not have computers, I describe where I’m sitting in the house, what I have around me, where the rest of my family is and what they’re doing while I write. When I’m instant messaging with out-of-town friends or family members that I don’t get to see often, I always ask them first where they are and what they’re doing. I want to know if they’re stretched out on an easy chair or sitting at their desks in home offices. I want to know if they’re having a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and if the kids are running around or already in bed. I want to know if they’re talking to me after a day of getting mentally beaten up or a day of small victories. I want to picture them in my head while we type away, sharing our thoughts and experiences. Knowing their setting takes our words from the page or the screen and turns them into a conversation.
When it’s time to write, I often move around my house. I love how my own setting affects my writing. This glorious room of sunshine where I’m sitting right now is the perfect place to write about anything uplifting, such as my passion for a great setting. I use my desk for serious subjects and my kitchen for fun and gossip. I hide from the world on a closet floor when I want an extra boost of secretive juice. If I need the feel of interruptions, all I have to do is sit near my child and tell her I need a few quiet moments alone. For me, it’s a bit like method acting, I suppose. The more I feel it, the better I write it, or at the very least, the smoother it comes to me.
Creating the setting is how I take myself into a story. I want readers to know my characters through their interactions with their environments. When I’m putting a scene together, I cannot – or perhaps will not – do anything until I know where the characters are. I want to know why they’re where they are, how they’re moving, what they’re wearing, what happened directly before they got where they are and what they’re about to do. Sometimes it’s as simple as knowing she might be about to make a cup of coffee. It might be that his entire relationship history has been overwhelming him since breakfast. If her mind is a bewildered tornado, she might find herself on the floor in a heap because she missed the last stair. If he just found out that she loves him back, he might be stretched out on the sun-baked patio soaking in the heat all the way from the stones to his heart.
I want to be with my characters. I want to see them sweat in the summer and hear them cuss when they trip over the vacuum. I want to taste their coffee and smell the dinner they cooked. I want to feel the heat when they look into each other’s eyes for the first time. And if my characters are having a cocktail, then I’m having one with them. You can bet on that.