Thursday, September 1, 2011


After receiving a few more positive commentaries on Syntropy I was struck again as to why I love books and movies. It’s the same reason I love life. To quote the good doctor, “Oh the places you’ll go!

I love new worlds, brave or otherwise. Books or movies without a sense of place often leave me cold. I recently read The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton and was left chilled to the unmemorable bone.
The books and characters I love all have a sense of place: Scout has Maycomb, Billy has the Ozarks, Muad’—“my name is a killing word”—Dib has Arrakis, Augustus has his little grove of pecan trees down by the creek where he and Clara used to spend time together, Harry has Hogwarts, and Booker has the Muddy Joe river bottoms. For me to find a book truly engaging, I have to fall into the pages and want to stay. When I was in the Ozark’s with Billy Colman I didn’t simply fall in love with two dogs, I fell in love with barefoot summers and patched overalls.  
Further, I believe that building a clear sense of place serves more purpose than simply creating a world for the reader to enter. I believe it promotes story telling. In the interest of time I will share just one example. Assuming you have read and own the Harry Potter series, grab your copy of The Order of the Phoenix and turn to page 609. Near the bottom of the page Harry is pulled into Dumbledore’s office by the utterly detestable Madam Professor Dolores Jane Umbridge and an ad hoc trial breaks out, complete with a jury of talking portraits. I often think of this scene because I remember being amazed by the density and deftness of the ensuing action. For the next thirteen spellbinding pages Ms. Rowling treats us to a view into a pseudo-courtroom populated by no less than ten unique voices and at least sixteen total character references, not to mention the numerous spells, jinxes, charms, and Phoenixes flying about. And then there is Harry himself, who all the while is sharing with us his thoughts and suspicions while simultaneously having a non-verbal conversation with Dumbledore on the side. My point… the swiftness and lucidity of this scene would not have been possible had JKR not first built a world where this density of narrative was possible.

To sum: I appreciate it when an author takes the time to build an interesting world for two reasons: one, because I like going to new places; and two, because in the right hands a well built world can act like the rails of a roller coaster.
What keeps you on the edge of your seat?

Munk’s opening line:
The Palace of Fraelok was cracked in all the right places.
Munk’s opening line is yours to keep, use it.

This week's on-theme music: Ohio Players, Love Roller Coaster... say what?


L.G.Smith said...

I like connecting to characters that I can either identify with or sympathize with. The world is important too, but I'm less concerned with place than I am with circumstance. I'm a plot and character reader. I think that's why my world-building skills are sometimes found lacking. Sucks.

Glad you're getting some positive feedback on your novel. :)

Suze said...

I'm reading a novel right now that has me very engaged. It's not brilliant, flawless execution but the storyline is airtight and the world is wildly unique-- it's set in a simulation in 2044 (2045?) Mid-twenty-first century.

My own strengths as a writer are not plot, but the worlds in which I spend time feel very, very real. So, like you, I appreciate that in fiction by others, very much, as well. (That was a lot of sentence fragments set off by commas ...)

The Desert Rocks said...

I actually remember reading descriptive prose as a child in good books and stopping for a minute in my mind to look left and right--to make sure I was really there. Silly huh?

dbs said...

So well said.
And btw, Order of the Phoenix is my favourite in the series.

Anonymous said...

You are completely right about that Harry Potter court scene! Ender's Game did that to me - transported me and made me squirm.

Towanda said...

A sense of place is all important to me. I've never read Harry Potter and doubt that I ever will because I don't care much for fantasy, but when it comes to a sense of place in real life I don't see how there could be a good story without it.

Anonymous said...

I'm working on a parallel world very similar yet slightly different from ours for a future book. A couple people leave our world and accidently end up there and have to find their way back.

I found the second world has to be at least interesting if not fascinating, regardless how much it resemble our own. If readers do not like the alternative world, they will not like the book.

Lemons Don't Make Lemonade said...

Harry Potter rocks.

Yes, that really IS the most eloquent compliment I can come up with.

Laila Knight said...

World building is so important in writing. There really needs to be a sense of place. That's one reason why I let others read my see if they can tell where they are in my story and where they're going. :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

JK is the master (or should I say the mistress?) - I've been saying that a lot lately! :)

I agree that a sense of place is terribly important, but I have very little tolerance for long-winded descriptions. It's a true master that can take me there in a few words, fully realized, ready for action.

Great post! :)

Michael Offutt said...

I shall call this post Usal, for it is the strength at the base of the pillar. You will always be my Feydakeen, Munk.

Jayne said...

Couldn't agree with you more. I think this is why I fell in love with Capote. Well, there's his writing, too. ;)

Munk said...

@LG-It's great to know your strengths and weaknesses, it's why I love reviews. It focuses your improvements.
@S-Sounds like an interesting read. No points off for grammatical errors in my house... unless you are one of my kids.
@TDR-That is brilliant... I love the image.
@dbs-with you in most ways... as an adult, reading out loud to my younguns... the first three are hard to beat, it's all about audience.
@RK-We are on the same page... or should that be IN the same page?
@T-very tangible, yes. Laura Hillenbrand is very good at place.
@ST-very curious.
@LDML-yes he does.
@LK-Agree 10X
@SKQ-You might want to qualify your "master" phrasing, by adding "of world building," or "of scene writing." --people might talk. I agree that long winded responses can detract from narrative punch.
@MO- Muad'Dib! I must go read Dune again. I read it one summer in Alaska surrounded by tundra, I think my place added to my enjoyment.
@J-Yeah, I've heard he's good, as well as his writing.

Lydia K said...

I completely agree. The circumstance and the environment are so important. Without each one done well, a scene won't do it for me.

Marsha Sigman said...

I've read books where the world did not seem as important though because the characters made up for it.

But Harry Potter is in a league all by itself. I own the books and each time I read them the wonder and pure magic of the story sucks me in. I feel like a kid again. JK is brilliant.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Wonderful observations. As many times as I've read the HP books I've never thought about it quite that way. But you're absolutely right!

Dawnelle said...

This post reminded me of the first time I watched "The Blair Witch Project". This movie made me feel like I was right there in the woods with them, that is until my darling Father-in-law stated "this is such a stupid movie" out-loud in the theater. Yes, I did swiftly punch him in the arm! Once a writer has created a world that I feel I am part of....I'm all in!

Rusty Webb said...

It is a great feeling to read a book and get that feeling that you're really peeking into a real world as a voyeur.... it's beautiful when done well. It can be a mess when done poorly.

Kat Sloma said...

Real characters and a compelling sense a place are two of THE MOST important things for me in fiction. And I don't mind a great sense of place in photography either... :)

K.C. Woolf said...

Perfect timing, as I'm doing revisions for my novel and I've been wondering whether the story has too much, just enough or too little focus on the world.

I'm more of a character person myself, but I still enjoy the vicarious travel experience good stories have to offer.

Thanks! :-)

Munk said...

@LK-Oh yeah?! Okay, whatever, I agree too then!
@MS-Ain't it so...
@DKW-I know, right? There are so many examples where when I am reading to the kids and wonder, "How is it my 8-yr is not lost?" the density of actions is amazing. I often stop and ask, okay, what's going on right here... and she can describe the happenings very clearly. The initial face-off scene in the Department of Mysteries is another such teaching moment.
@RW-such is the beautiful mess.
@Kat-Agreed, I like being grounded.
@KC-We aim to please, good luck on the revisions.

Munk said...

Oops, sorry D, missed you.
@D-Suspension of disbelief is not papa's forte.

Tim Riley said...

The books I love the most are able to make the setting feel like a character. I think of Maycomb in to Kill a Mockingbird as a prime example.

I have an award for you in today's post my man.

PM Taylor said...

Found your blog thanks to TJ Riles - so glad I did.