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How to write about place: connect place and plot

Thoughts on place and short stories

Start with ‘what if?’

Start by asking ‘what if?’ of the place you’re in and the characters you’re starting to create who inhabit that place. For instance, when I wrote the first draft of a story called ‘Missed Connections’ I really was stranded in Hassocks train station because, tragically, someone had committed suicide on the line. I was there for two hours, waiting for the trains to London to start running again so I could get to work – so I had plenty of writing time, and my ‘what if?’ was provided for me by the circumstances.

Use what you already know

I took ‘What if several different characters missed out on a journey because someone committed suicide by jumping in front of a train?’ And combined it with ‘What if three people’s lives were changed for the good because their train was cancelled?’ I liked the idea of some kind of good coming out of tragedy. I transported this ‘What if?’ to a train line I used to know well when I lived in Norwich, especially as my grandparents’ closest station was Diss.

Good things from tragedy

I imagined my characters near three different stations in East Anglia and – this is how I imagined it, but you can interpret it differently if you want to – I had something good happen to them: one of them gets pregnant with the baby she wants, one of them meets a new love, and a third escapes from an abusive husband.

Combining different inspirations

So I was inspired by a) the place I was in (which I didn’t know well) b) the places of which it reminded me (which I knew well, but several years ago) and c) the ‘what ifs?’ suggests by my situation. I didn’t simply ‘write about’ Hassocks station. It’s a matter of letting yourself play with the ‘what ifs?’ without dismissing them as silly. ‘What if?’ works wonders but not if you get in its way.

You can buy Unusual Places from the Cultured Llama website – available as a paperback or ebook.

 

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