Are ‘place’ and ‘pace’ mutually incompatible in a story?

It was a sixteen hour journey from Vancouver to Wellington and from northern hemisphere autumn to southern hemisphere spring, and now here I am on a glorious day, with flowers and blossom, blue sky, sunshine. Bliss. Rain in Auckland gave way to brilliant light on snow-capped Mount Taranaki and the Kaikoura Ranges as I watched transfixed from my window seat on the crowded plane.

I’ve been dreaming for a while about my return to New Zealand after a three year absence. The short plane trip from Auckland to Wellington this morning triggered a flood of memories of places and people and events, and made me cry, as it’s done before. I feel the same about the landscape of West Cumbria where I live, and have tried to portray this powerful sense of place in my writing, but inadequately. It’s hard to find the words to convey a passion for colours and contours and light without slowing down the pace of the story. You can infer what the characters see through what they say but real people rarely talk at any length about the landscape around them. The author’s own voice may be the only one available to carry the description, and the author’s voice should be heard rarely and only for a purpose. In ‘A Good Liar’ I used description of a hot languid afternoon to explain Jessie Whelan’s readiness for an erotic experience, and I think it worked, although no-one else seemed to notice. Oh how I yearn for some feedback about my writing at that level of detail.

Today, overwhelmed by my return to this wonderful place, I wonder if I can try again to capture the power of place in words that don’t intrude. The new novel ‘Cruel Tide’ is set in  late autumn. Maybe the next story should be set in a Cumbrian spring, and all the jewellery of this glorious day could be harnessed to enfold the characters: dark deeds in brilliant surroundings. Could be fruitful.

1 thought on “Are ‘place’ and ‘pace’ mutually incompatible in a story?

  1. I raised the same dilemma in a post recently – my place was a fictitious one so I did need to describe it but I tinkered endlessly to try and get that balance right. I rather hope the fact no one as commented either way is a sign I achieve some sort of equilibrium. Enjoy Wellington. We visited a newish chocolate factory there in December and it was wonderful, as was the fruit and veg market cum store that’s been built into a car park. Foodie heaven I thought.

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