by Annette Young
Last night I ventured into Torrevieja (Spain) and found a peaceful place alongside one of the marinas where in the early evening, the sound of holidaymakers faded into an acceptable distance and the main sound was of water gently moving and boats swaying. It was peaceful to say the least and with a fading blue sky and temperatures slightly dipping, it was easy to let go of the tensions of the day and to just slip into observation mode.
Over the months, it has actually become a favoured spot where I go to recharge the mental batteries and to unwind. There are always people wandering past the bar towards their boats and occasionally, beautiful boats pull out into the deep waters or return to their designated mooring space. Then there are those who like me, find the place an oasis of tranquility – a refuge from the intense heat of the town and away from the throngs of holidaymakers. There are always a few people milling around, but mainly those who have come to stay in one of the apartments situated behind the few bars strategically placed along the waters edge. As night cast its shadow over the scene, the place suddenly came alive with candles aesthetically placed, and flickering light plus lamplight, sparkling, the light rays mirrored in the fluctuating waters, affording the outside space a cosy, shimmering feel.
Then, out of nowhere, the sound of a singer being strangled or tortured to say the least, fragmented the peace as his booming voice carried across the marina deafening all who were close. Although I have found much of the entertainment in Spain to be a little cheesy, usually I enjoy it regardless, and the atmosphere deepens but last night, it was too loud, too copied, too false and, it was the wrong time and place.
But you may ask, what has this to do with writing?
Simply this, as the tranquility fractured around me, I couldn’t help thinking about the importance of setting within fiction writing and how writers have to be able to conjure up a scene and relay this to the reader so that it comes to life in a believable way and that it feels right. Last night, all I could think was that the singer and the setting were in conflict with each other. They didn’t match, it most certainly didn’t feel right and the people in the outdoor restaurant, were helpless prisoners as their ears were tortured.
While I may exaggerate just a little, the setting and the entertainment were in sharp contrast to each other. There was little thought into how suitable a setting or how suitable the entertainer would be. If a string quartet had been placed alongside the boats, the music would have enhanced the setting, generating a rhythmic atmosphere to maximise the beauty of the waterside scene. If a harpist performed solo or soft, lilting Spanish music was played, a beautiful scene would be transformed further. But this was not the case.
Writers can observe these conflicting settings and use them to add elements to their writing either to accentuate an irritating event or, to avoid creating conflict within a setting to avoid alienating the reader. There’s nothing worse than a reader questing the way a character thinks or acts or, if the scene is less than real to them, it only stops the readers from becoming involved in the story.
Writing is all about observation and you can create wonderful ideas, develop new characters or even comprehend the complexities of layers just through watching life unfold around you. With your eyes open and having a natural instinct to create, it is possible to breathe new life into your fiction simply through awareness. At the very least, life will spark off new ideas and will warn you of fiction pitfalls.