Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Landscape is the locale of a story, incised into the awareness of the individuals who have pestered their way to the point of being given an audition. The lawns, shrubs, rocks and buildings of the landscape are etched into the characters' nervous energy; so are the buildings, offices, and bedrooms; as well their attempts to cover the more egregious among the spills, scars, and obsolete fashions.

A significant irony related to landscape comes when the writer finally realizes how, regardless of where the story is ultimately set, it was written with a place close to home in mind. We are adaptable as a species, supremely inventive as practitioners of the writing craft; we can set a story in the Arctic Regions, calling it, say, Dutch Harbor, or Anchorage, but if we were raised in Tucson, the emotional landscape will be Tucson. Tucson with parkas, perhaps, but still Tucson. The reverse side of this irony becomes apparent when the writer, trying to differentiate Dutch Harbor from Tucson, begins piling on details that, if not properly managed, will turn on the writer, making them seem artificial and contrived.

Landscape bursts with energy; it is the cemetery of the hopes, dreams, successes, and unrecorded failures of those who lived there. We have only to stroll through the rows, observe the rococo of the monuments and tombs to intuit the ambiance of the place. There is always someone in a landscape who knows the secrets and can, often for the price of a drink, be induced to hold forth on the secrets of the place. It is the writer's job to find such informants, and to listen to them.

It is instructive to read the opening chapter of any novel by Thomas Hardy. Many of his novels were written in the waning years of the nineteenth century, a few memorable ones lapsing into the early 1900s. Here is a perfect example of the way the spirit of those times called for the long, descriptive meander. The Return of the Native is as good as any, although The Mayor of Casterbridge also serves to illustrate the point, which is to get all the information in later. Much later. Nevertheless, Hardy's novels do imply the exact relationship of the characters to their social stations and the landscape from which they spring.

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