Fri. May 12, 2017: Physical/Emotional Geography in Fiction

Friday, May 12, 2017
Waning Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Rainy and cold

Someday, it might actually warm up around here.

The meeting went pretty well yesterday morning. We’ll see. I’m waiting to receive my first assignment from the other gig. I’m working on some more article pitches.

I did the initial re-read of WINNER TAKE ALL and made notes/changes on the hard copy. It holds together better than I thought. I cut some characters that don’t really drive the plot (mostly because there was no room for the subplots they were supposed to anchor), tightened a few things, made notes where I have to add in some non-dialogue visuals, and cut. Implementing the changes starts today.

Did some research on a few different things; tried to figure out and juggle some other things.

Read a book that was disappointing. I’ve read other books by this author. One of her series I just love. The other, I was lukewarm about. because I felt the protagonist had been so dumbed down I couldn’t respect her. This one is supposedly set on Cape Cod. Too bad she’s never set foot here. I don’t mind the fictional town — many authors stretch the geography of place, and that’s fine. We need to create towns that serve the story, and then stick them within recognizable geography. However, she created a harbor that could only work on the bay side and stuck it on the ocean side. She got some of the physical geography wrong, mostly in calling things by names that appear on tourist maps, but, if you’re a local (as her protagonist supposedly is), would never use that phrasing. Most importantly, she got the emotional geography wrong. She didn’t capture anything of the essence of Cape Cod, what makes it completely different from anywhere else in the country, and why people both visit and move HERE. The way the book read, it might as well have been in Kansas. The whole tone was far more Midwest than New England. The lack of sensory detail was astonishing, although the ocean was mentioned a time or two. I was terribly disappointed. I felt betrayed and cheated.

Now, she can write about anything she wants, and more power to her. But if she’s going to write about a place she hasn’t visited (or maybe visited once on the fly), at least do research and talk to people WHO LIVE HERE.

Emotional geography is so important to a book. If you’re going to set a piece in a specific location, looking at maps isn’t enough. If you can’t visit, you need to watch endless hours of video about the place, talk to people WHO LIVE THERE, and get a sense of what makes that place unique. It’s a huge amount of research, and it’s very different than, for instance, doing historical research. The historical research is one layer, the geographical research is another layer. The emotional/sensory research is what makes the piece work or not work.

I have no intention of publicly trashing the book or its author — I respect most of her other work too much, AND I don’t want to do that to another author. It was a good lesson in caution, and makes me dig into the locales of some of what I’m writing even more deeply. Even when I write about a place I’ve spent time in, I go back to my journals and/or travel diaries to make sure I have the sensory and emotional details right.

My travel journals are filled with smells, sounds, textures — because to me, when I read about a book about a place I know, I expect those details to be recognizable, even if the character is new to the place and surprised and/or delighted by the details. When I read about a place I don’t know, I want to feel as though I’m in the place. Without emotional geography and CORRECT sensory detail, it feels false. Yes, people filter things differently, but when a specific location reads as generic, the warning bells go off. Most of the time, at this point in my life, when I read a book, I can tell how much time the author has spent in the location.

I feel an article coming on about how to keep a travel journal! 😉

I have errands in the morning, some time needs to be spent in the library, and then, hopefully, I can dig in and get some good writing done, and at least the first twenty pages on the revision of the screenplay. FIX IT GIRL needs attention, as does Lavinia.

And, of course, work on more pitches. The next few weeks will be, to say the least, challenging. Right now, I’m not feeling up to it, but I’ll just have to dig deeper and do it.

Published in: on May 12, 2017 at 9:29 am  Comments (2)  


  1. I like that–emotional geography. Reminds me of Linda Lappin’s writings about the genius loci of place and how understanding and taking in every aspect–all the sensory details and the resonances of place–can add depth, authenticity, and emotion to your writing.

    • Yes. I find it so important, as both a reader and a writer. It makes the world come alive for me.

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