In your memoir, you’ll introduce readers to significant places. Since readers were not there, you’ll need to develop those places well.
That’s why we’ve been looking at how to create a sense of place in your memoir, how to create a setting readers can visualize.
Effectively doing so can be a fun exercise for you, the writer, but it’s more than that. Creating a sense of place is essential if you want readers to experience your story with you.
Last week we considered descriptions of entrances and rooms. (If you missed that post, click on Must-know info about your memoir’s sense of place.) Have you enjoyed working on the settings in your memoir since then? I hope so.
While you continue working on your memoir’s places, include sensory details—what would your readers see, touch, taste, smell, and hear?
Think back: Was the room dusty or polished, cluttered or tidy, warm or cold, old or new, welcoming or unfriendly?
Did the place smell like a florist shop, or overripe cantaloupe, or something worse?—maybe stale cigarette smoke, trash, or chemicals?
What unique sounds resided in that place? Could you hear foghorns signaling to ferry boats and cruise ships and supertankers on foggy days? Did you hear construction noises, or students practicing the flute, or people in prayer? Could you hear wind in the trees? (If so, name those trees—Aspen? Palm? Cedar?)
Spend time recollecting the other sensory details of your place—sights, textures (or feels), and tastes.
For your inspiration, study how Marilynne Robinson created a sense of place in her book, Lila. It’s fiction, but the art of describing a place is the same, whether fiction or nonfiction (memoir is nonfiction—it’s always true). Note how she included dialogue to create that sense of place.
“When they were children they used to be glad when they stayed in a workers’ camp, shabby as they all were, little rows of cabins with battered tables and chairs and moldy cots inside, and maybe some dishes and spoons. They were dank and they smelled of mice…. Somebody sometime had nailed a horseshoe above the door of a cabin they had for a week and they felt this must be important….
“They were given crates of fruit that was too ripe or bruised, and the children ate it till they were … sick of the souring smell of it and the shiny little black bugs that began to cover it, and then they would start throwing it at each other and get themselves covered with rotten pear and apricot. Flies everywhere. They’d be in trouble for getting their clothes dirtier than they were before. Doane hated those camps. He’d say, ‘Folks sposed to live like that?’…”
Your task, then, is to recreate your memoir’s rooms,
buildings, and entrances to them.
And be sure to come back next time
because we’ll continue with this important writing skill.