Is “Place” also a character?

By Carol / April 10, 2018 /

Author and blogger M.K. Tod and I met through our mutual interest in historical fiction. This year, she’s exploring the themes of time and place. She invited me to join that discussion, and my post “Place – as complex as a human being’  is on her blog today. Here’s the beginning of my post:

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As a reader and a writer of memoir and historical fiction, I know that when the author ‘gets it right,’ time and place take on the qualities of another character.

Place shapes the way people think about themselves, it frames their actions. Place can be friendly or hostile, welcoming or menacing, relaxing or high stress. Place can be all of those, sometimes at the same time.

I believe place can be equally important in any genre if the author chooses to go there. The hotel in Stephen King’s The Shining is just one example.

Have you read books where ‘place’ was a significant character in the story? Leave the title of a book that springs to mind here, then hop on over and join the discussion at Mary’s blog A Writer of History.

While you’re there, check out Mary’s excellent books. Her latest book, Time and Regret, was picked up by Lake Union Publishing.



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  1. Nan Johnson on April 10, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    My Antonia by Willa Cather and Giants in the Earth by Ole Rolvaag are two books in which the setting of the American prairie is so critical to the story that it becomes like a character. Also, in Eowyn Ivey’s books The Snow Child and To the Bright Side of the World, there is a mystical quality to the Alaskan winter that is essential to both of those stories. I look forward to reading what others have to say. Great post as always!

    • Carol on April 10, 2018 at 6:20 pm

      You’ve shared two books I have read (Cather and Ivey’s The Snow Child) – and I agree entirely – and two I haven’t read but will check out. Thanks, Nan.

      • Carol on April 11, 2018 at 10:44 am

        I just came across this comment by author Jane Smiley: “Setting is one of the most important aspects of a novel, and also one of the most difficult, especially if the setting is dictating the action and the arc of the plot.” In addition to her own novel “A Thousand Acres,” she pointed to “Giants of the Earth” as an example where setting/place is particularly important. And “Huck Finn.”

  2. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on April 11, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    This fascinates me, Carol! Ukraine, the place where I was born, comes to mind. I think of my grandmother loving her home with all her being, not leaving it, even though her mother and siblings emigrated to Canada. Then being betrayed by that same place she called home, having her loved ones torn from her side and sent into exile because they were “Kulaks” (landowners). It is also the place where Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana was born, and where she too was torn by her father’s cruelty and bloodshed and finally had to leave the country of her birth — physically, but her heart was always there just like my grandmother’s was. “no matter how much distance she put between her past and her present, she could not undo the emotional and psychological damage her father had wrought.” The biography “Stalin’s Daughter” is written by Rosemary Sullivan.

    • Carol on April 11, 2018 at 3:03 pm

      There could be a significant essay (blog post) for you in this idea, Elfrieda. Place means different things to different people, but “home” with all its complexity is a big part of that. Place is people and history and culture all molded by the physical make up of the land. Recently “Fiddler on the Roof” has been airing on one of our TV channels. Tevya’s family – and all their friends – were driven off the land they owned. Because they were land owners? Because they were Jews? Tevya’s daughter who married a Catholic could stay and possibly keep her father and family on the land. But to do that he’d be forsaking his friends and belief. Place is so complicated.

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