Monday, March 29, 2010

Sense of Place

I haven't been blogging much, because I've been hard at work on a middle grade novel. It takes place in an alternate universe, but with a rural setting. I've had to draw a map for myself so I can figure out where everything is. But what I keep picturing in my mind is my grandparents' house, which was built in 1926. More on this later.

Picturing a familiar place while trying to describe a made-up one made me think about what I picture when I read novels.

When you're reading a book for the first time -- let's use

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins as an example --

do you picture certain scenes taking place in locales that are familiar to you? Say, your childhood home? Your backyard?

Okay. Promise not to laugh.

When I first read The Hunger Games, I couldn't help picturing the fence around Katniss's district (the one she illegally crosses to go hunting) as the fence around my elementary school playground. And yes, there was a woods (albeit a tiny one) beyond that fence. So now when I re-read the book, I automatically picture Katniss hunting in that little woods beyond that same playground. I can't help it. And that sense of place carries over to the Arena -- which, you guessed it -- looks like the larger section of the playground in my mind. Hey, it was a big playground, and not just because I was small.

With other scenes or while reading other books, I'm usually able to conjure up a setting from my imagination. But occasionally, I find myself falling back on familiarity and picturing places I've actually known. I have no clue why I do this, but I do. Perhaps a psychologist could answer that. The comfort of familiar turf? A place where I felt safe?

Who knows.

Does it mean my imagination isn't strong enough to create every scene from scratch? Or does it simply mean that I had a nurturing childhood? When I read Charlotte's Web, I picture my grandparents' house -- even though it wasn't a farm. (*Also note that I didn't read Charlotte's Web until I was in my 20s, which was when I lost my grandparents -- ooh, deep psychological stuff here*). They had three acres so since I grew up in the suburbs on a third of an acre, maybe to my mind their property was as big as a farm. And that's probably why I keep picturing it while writing a novel that takes place on a farm.

Tell me about your favorite children's books. What scenes have you pictured taking place in familiar settings?


  1. Speaking of place, did you know that Caldecott medalist Beth Krommes' illustrations in The House in the Night are based on memories of Pennsylvania's hilly countryside?

  2. Oooh, I did not know that. Thanks for pointing that out.


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