In creative literature, authors (even newbies like myself) have the remarkable ability to transport readers to distant lands and fantastical realms through the power of their words. By vividly describing locations, writers can bridge the gap between reality and imagination, blurring the boundaries between tangible and pure imagination. The captivating interplay between reality and imagination, examining how the textual depiction of locations in books can shape our perceptions and take us on extraordinary journeys, is explored in this brief article.
Image: A location in the new novel, Nedlands golf course sand trap, author's photo.
I've previously disputed the adage given to start-out writers to 'describe what you know'. This in and of itself is too restrictive. Sure, extrapolate from what you know, but if you stick too rigidly to only writing from what you have personally experienced, you will restrict yourself to writing to memoir. To only write what you know would be another example of looking at the full spectrum of a rainbow and only seeing one colour.
Image: A location in the new novel, rear entrance Oxford Street Cafe, author's photo.
Books possess an exquisite quality that allows readers to escape the constraints of reality and immerse themselves in imaginative worlds. Authors create breathtaking landscapes and magical realms through their descriptive prose, stimulating the reader's senses and igniting their imagination. Whether it's J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, or Stephen Donaldson's Land of Thomas Covenant, these locations transcend the bounds of reality, inviting readers to explore and venture beyond what is conventionally possible. Imagination is limitless.
Image: Alice in Wonderland, 2010 film version promotional image.
While imagination fuels our journey through literary landscapes, our perceptions shape how we perceive and interpret these textual locations. A single paragraph describing a tropical sunset or a smoky bar can evoke a myriad of visual images in the minds of different readers, influenced by their unique experiences and perspectives. The exact location transforms into a serene paradise, a haunting wilderness, or a bustling marketplace, depending on the lens through which it is perceived.
Image: A location in the new novel, Galup (Lake Monger)', 'Palms with Long Shadows', author's photo.
Although literary locations may exist solely within the realms of fiction, they often bear striking resemblances to real-world places. Authors draw inspiration from the physical landscapes and cultural nuances of the world around them, infusing their narratives with elements that anchor the fantastical within the familiar. Through this interplay between reality and imagination, books provide a portal to understanding and empathy, enabling readers to relate to fictional locations while appreciating their intrinsic differences.
Intermingling reality and imagination through the text of locations in books allows us to broaden our horizons. We gain insight into different cultures, histories, and perspectives by venturing into unfamiliar settings and encountering diverse characters. Our imagination intertwines with reality, enabling us to perceive the world with fresh eyes and fostering a sense of wonder and curiosity that transcends the boundaries of the written page.
Image: Mindil Beach Sunset, Darwin as in 'Darwin's Wake'. Author's photo.
But what happens when a writer describes a location that exists in reality? If the reality is also contemporaneous, the well-funded and time-rich writer can travel to places and study them in detail. This enables the writer to see the reality for what it is, beyond what might be possible via Google or tourist brochures. If the setting is some time already passed or in a future yet to occur, travel to the location informs extrapolation. For those less able to travel to a location to paint a picture of reality is more difficult. I experienced this recently when I travelled to Darwin, a significant setting in my novel 'Darwin's Wake'.
Overall, the locations I described stood up to what had been extrapolated from a trip to Darwin almost thirty years ago. Of course, I researched Darwin in more recent times to ensure that the setting was correct. I did okay with this. The reality of sitting in a location where I had placed a character showed I had got it mainly right. The truth of being there wouldn't have changed things too much, but some things, revealed in three dimensions, could have been tweaked. Fortunately, no one who has read the book has had any problem with the Darwin I described. Maybe this is because not many of them have been to the locations described in 'Darwin's Wake', but I'd like to think it is because I got it right.
This weekend I have been researching locations likely to occur in my next novel. Walking around the sites and seeing minor details only revealed by being there adds richness to the writing and immerse the reader in the scene.
The quote from George R. R. Martin keeps going through my mind as I explore the various locations:
"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one."
Image: Geogre R. R. Martin, author of 'Game of Thrones'.
As we turn the pages of a book, we embark on a journey of self-discovery and exploration. The dance between reality and imagination within literary landscapes and locations invites us to embrace the extraordinary and uncover the hidden depths of our imagination. Each reader is provided with a brush to paint their own unique reality.
Image: The author sitting in Roland's Chair on stokes Wharf, Darwin from 'Darwin's Wake' (note the promotional shirt).
Photo credit: C. McCafferty.