Writing Place

Writing Place

What’s the best way to describe a place? I believe if you just wiggle your fingers at the keys and close your eyes, you will see it in your mind’s eye. The details will emerge, defining the generalities. The small images recorded at the back of your mind will transform into a picture. Give it a chance to grow - in the realm of story places are timeless.

Here are two examples:

1 - The park was the most important place in town if you were any age under fifteen and lived in its vicinity. Of course there were other parks but they were meaningless patches of dirt compared to ours, because all of our friends went to the park. Because there were so many children during these decades and because the summer holidays ran to ten weeks, the city instituted a program of youth leaders at each park, one man, one woman. Otherwise who knew what might happen? No training was required for this.. Mostly the leaders handed out sporting equipment, ran all sorts of competitions, booked out tennis and basketball courts and baseball diamonds, and generally kept the peace and the little ones out of trouble. It was a free place, where you could meet up, leave, come together or go apart.

2 - Let me describe Holmes to you in the 50’s and 60’s. It was a pretty good place to grow up; there wasn’t much violence or crime there, just a little petty theft, that’s all. Because it’s East and West Main Streets were part of Route 66, it took a lot of trucks and people passing through. The North South main thoroughfare was State Street, which did the same. Our house ran off East Main Street and we lived at number 38 Marlow Street. I believed we lived in the absolutely perfect place for us to live. The Lincoln Primary School was down the road and around the corner. The Junior High School was further west, and High School was further east. A bit further on from the Primary School was Pickering Park, where we all met up.

In the first example, can you picture such a park? Does it stir any memories of you own growing up? Is it more universal because nothing is named, or spelt out, as it is in the second example? Or does the second one appeal precisely because it gives more of a handle on the place, a preciseness? What does this mean about the reader? Or about the writer? How much do you think depends on interpretation? Or perception?

I am reminded of the first Harry Potter Book, where the reader zooms in from the outer universe to the precise ‘cupboard under the stairs’. They say that naming a person or location defines it in a particular way (or maybe labels would be a better word). Is that a good thing? As long as things remain unnamed and unlabelled, do they remain free? Is it simple semantics that create the world for each individual?

In any case, I would be happy to hear any of your thoughts on these (perhaps) unanswerable questions.