Place is more than Just Location
Writing about place or location of the event or experience is an important technique in creative nonfiction. It often plays a vital role in your story. It allows you to recreate the scene and experience in the mind of the reader. It can act as a backdrop or provide context for a personal essay. It can add meaning to a memoir. For instance, if a writer creates a memoir about child abuse, the place or location is significant. Place can also be the subject of creative writing. If you are writing a travel essay, you will be writing about the place you are visiting. Often, without a place or location, you have no experience or event.
This article will define what creative nonfiction writers mean by place/location and explain how to write about place/location in your creative nonfiction.
Definition of Place
In creative nonfiction, the place or location where the event or experience took place is more than just about the name of the place. It is also the physical location of the place, the physical attributes, such as the urban setting of crowds, pollution, public transit, traffic jams or the rural setting of open spaces, fewer people, fields, farms, and small communities.
Place is also about its socioeconomic attributes of a setting. Some places are poor, while others are wealthy. Some places have high unemployment, while others have an abundance of employment opportunities. Some places have schools and hospitals, while other places have nothing.
In writing about travel, place is much more than the physical location. It is about the culture, language, values, morals, beliefs, customs, cuisine, traditions, and way of life.
In writing a memoir, place often has significant meaning. It can be a catalyst for memories of childhood, adulthood, unique experiences. In the memoir, My Life: The Presidential Years, the Whitehouse was a special place for Bill Clinton. Place can also have significant meaning for ordinary people. In writing Eat, Pray, and Love, place had a powerful meaning for Elizabeth Gilbert. After her divorce and a mid-life-crisis, Gilbert decided to travel for a year by herself in an effort to restore balance and meaning to her life. Her memoir chronicles the three places she visited: Rome, India, and Bali. Each of these places had significant meaning to herself and to her life. She wrote about this powerful meaning in her memoir.
Some creative nonfiction writers view place as character. In recreating the scene or experience, the writer views place as a character in the story. Similar to developing a character, the place needs to be developed. The writer can use personification to develop the place. It can become nurturing, menacing, foreboding.
Yet place is more than just character. It is also about meaning. A place or location often has significant meaning. We can associate a particular place with good memories or bad memories, as being a happy place or sad place, as being a relaxing place or stressful place.
Clearly, when a creative writer writes about place, the writer must consider more than just its physical attributes or location.
How to Write about Place
In writing about place, you ought to consider the following:
- Name of the place
- Location of the place
- Physical attributes
- Home as place
- Nature as place
- Travel as place
- Meaning the place has for you
- Significance of the place
When writing about place, you first need to consider its name. Where did the name of the place originate? What is its history? What does it symbolize? For example, the city of Toronto originated as the Mohawk phrase tkaronto, later modified by French explorers and map makers.
You also need to consider writing about the important features, amenities, and physical attributes of place. For instance, in writing about Toronto, you can consider writing about its multicultural population, sports teams, and public transit, shopping centers, unique neighborhoods, landmarks, popular attractions, and the fact that it is located on Lake Ontario.
A place can also be about “home.” You can begin by exploring the meaning of home. Home is suppose to be a place of escape, comfort, protection, love, stability, and permanence—even solitude. What does home mean to you? What was my home like as a child? What did a like or dislike about the place called home? What memories do you have about your childhood home? For some people, home is a transient place, especially for people who travel, who are new immigrants, who end marriages or relationships.
In writing about place, you can also consider it in relation to nature. In his memoir, “Waldon”, Henry David Thoreau viewed nature, wildlife, and the woods as having a being a special place. According to Brenda Miller, who wrote “Tell It Slant”, a popular creative nonfiction text, Thoreau viewed the “human consciousness moved through nature, observing it, reacting to it, and ultimately being transformed by it. Miller goes on to suggest that when you write about nature as place, you need to consider how nature embodies larger forces, such as the physical attributes of a person you admire or the human condition or human experience.
In writing about place as a traveler, don’t write what everyone else has written. Your purpose is to find “a purpose for your writing above and beyond the travel experience itself”. (Tell It Slant) To create a travel piece that is more than just about transcribing the experience, you need to consider the theme and the significant meaning of the place.
When writing about a particular place, you ought to consider what meaning the place has for you. You can start by ask yourself the following: What does this place mean to me? How do I feel about this particular place? Do I like it? What do I like about it? Do I dislike it? What do I dislike about it? What are my memories of this place? What favorite memories do I have about this place?
Tips for Writing about Place
When writing about place, you must be original. You must be able to write about place from a unique perspective.
- Describe the place as if it is a character in your story. What is its appearance? Its behaviour? What is the place saying to you?
- Use literary devices to describe the place, such as metaphors, personification, and simile.
- Describe the physical attributes of the place using sensory images. How does place smell, sound, taste, feel, and appear to you?
- Write about place as it means to you. Do you have fond memories of the place? What do you like or dislike about the place? What is important? What is insignificant about the place? How does the place feel to you?
- Write about the significance of place. What universal truth embodies the place?
- Write about what you have learned about the sense of place/location?
- Don’t use clichés or hackneyed expressions to describe a place.
- Use concrete and specific details. Remember as many significant details about place as you can.
The place or location of an event or experience can have many meanings. Place can be your home, a travel destination, or a walk in the woods. When writing about place, consider its name. Write about its physical attributes. Write about what the place means to you. Write about the significance of the place. Write about theme and universal truth as it applies to place. Write about place from your own unique perspective.
If you have any questions or comments, please post them to this blog.
Awesome post. Very helpful. I just wrote my first blog post ever and trying to improve my writing so this was great for me, thanks.
[…] How to Write Creative Nonfiction: Writing about Place « Find Your …Mar 17, 2010 … Writing about place or location of the event or experience is an important technique in creative nonfiction. It often plays a vital role in your story. […]
Thank you for this article. I am starting my own little creative writing expedition. It has been suggested I work on my location descriptions, so as to not sound forced.
wow this is great. it will even be better if someone (or the author even) post some examples. please? 🙂