Think of the movie “Snow Falling on Cedars” or E. Annie Proulx’s novel Shipping News. Both are good examples where smells, sounds and descriptions make the story vivid and memorable. A good and balanced use of “place” in a book adds intrigue and drama to the action.
Because of my strong sense of place, I am constantly aware that I must not allow it to overshadow the plot, characters, or conflict in my writing. In a brochure about historic New Paltz, N.Y., a writer states, “Nothing compares with the experience of a historic or sacred landscape protected, a favorite house restored, or a neglected neighborhood revived.” I completely agree.
Although it has been over thirty years, I still think in terms of north, south, east, and west according to how the landscape looked when I lived in S.C. To the north were cotton fields. To the south were pastures and cattle. When I sat in the swing (hung from a sturdy limb of the pecan tree in our front yard), the west was to my left beyond a row of dark pine trees. East led down the lane. Somehow those directions were recorded or stamped in my bones. Today, I still orient myself by turning around and facing a certain direction in order to "feel" which way is east or south. I wonder if other people have that same feeling. I'm not sure how younger people relate to directions and/or place now that they depend on GPS equipment.
I grew up on the land, felt attached to the land, and that land gave me an inner sense about direction and parameters. My house faces south, but when I look out my front door, I don’t "feel” I’m facing south but east. It’s something in my bones. Am I crazy? Conflicted? Lost?