Landscape in Writing

Background, setting, landscape contributes to writing. No event or Being is sans context. There exists no Universal Truth about temporal things and beings.

In what ways can landscape/s of your essay, story, novel help enrich the reading experience of your piece?

One, it can enhance emotional content by amplifying the key emotions of your story. A desert says more than just what it is. A seaside says more than what it is. Shashi Deshpande in her book The Long Silence has much of the book set in an apartment. The main characters are hardly in open air. The confinement of the apartment serves as a great backdrop for the character’s loneliness. In Arunlekha Sengupta’s work The Writer’s Room, note how she uses the background effectively to build emotions for her story.

Second, it can provide contrast. If the setting conveys a certain emotion, you can contradict it in your story. Murder stories written on a tranquil seaside or quiet villages are remembered clearly. In Haruki Murakami’s book Kafka on the Shore, note how each setting is used effectively to confound and erase usual meanings — dumpsters, library, roads, even apartment. The writer presents the landscape, leads readers to invoke familiar social meanings and then goes on to disrupt it.

Third, the landscape itself can be a character. Each city/neighborhood has a personality — history and culture. This personality can interact with the animate characters of a story. One of my clients wrote a piece of her teenage years as told by the wooden bench in her classroom. Another converted Thousand Lights area in Chennai as a character. Amitav Ghosh’s book The Hungry Tide gives Sundarbans a personality, much alike a village headman in a village story.

Fourth, the landscape can be used as a metaphor. Research in creativity shows the ability to use metaphors beyond your normal everyday operating metaphors is an indicator of high creative thinking skills. Further, vice versa working on metaphors also helps you build disruptive thinking. This approach is often used by poets. However, writers also employ it to reflect inner states, struggles with others, or celebrations.

Fifth, landscape descriptions help readers enter your story or essay. Instead of reading dissociated, they associate into the article and experience it. They own the meaning they make. Thus some readers are affected by certain stories for days; some are inspired/angry/sad.

Look back into your writing. How well do you incorporate landscape in your work? How can you improve it?

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