Vision: A Resource for Writers

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The Personality of Places

By Koneko
Copyright 2008 by Koneko, All Rights Reserved

Your instincts tell you things about people, but they also tell you about places. Places are older than people. They have age, and they have history. Over the years, they've had more people walk in them than we could ever imagine and, because of who's been there and what's happened, they've developed their own personalities.

Like everything else in your life, this can be used in your writing. The home of your hero can be so welcoming and wonderful that your readers, too, will want to fight for it. The country your good guys fight against can feel dark and terrible so that your readers will dislike it as much as your characters. A small manor house can seem imposing where a large one is more relaxing, and a seemingly innocent stone circle can be a symbol for blood and death.

My first example is London, England. It was marshland, once, and it's had a human settlement for as long as history and archaeology can tell us. People and animals have been born and lived there, and they've died there, too. Over time, it became the city it is today, but there was a lot of bloodshed along the way. Perhaps the most famous of its landmarks is the Tower of London, where countless people have died in pain and torment. The Tower itself is a proud, bloody-clothed Lord, standing strong despite slippery foundations.

London itself has been bloody since it was Londinium, in Roman times. If you have London, you can hold the entire country in your grasp, because even though it's so low down it's the heart of the country. From London you can get anywhere, and until the ships got too big to get up the Thames, it was a major port city. Its streets were, and still are, rife with crime.

London is like the Tower. It's tall, strong, and filled with bloody, passionate vibrancy. It constantly grows and changes, keeping the old and bringing in the new. It -- or rather, he -- feels like he will always be there, because he says he will in a stiff-necked, old-codger way.

Then again, there's Colchester. Before Boadiccea got there, it was Camulodunum, the Roman capital. It is said that it is the most haunted town in the country and, seemingly, you can't go ten yards without hitting some sort of historical location.

Yet Colchester seems a lot cleaner than London. The castle itself is battered by man and time. Colchester Castle has foundations from the old Roman temple that anyone can go and see, if you feel brave enough to dare the slippery steps down, but it is far from being a proud, strong person. Instead, it feels like a worn, tired, broken old lady who's endured tests and tribulations and been reduced to half her size. Quite literally, in fact -- I think there should be more to her, that her current height should be twice as high as it is now.

Where the Tower, and London, are vibrant and loud, Colchester and her Castle are quiet and calm. There are no ghosts in the castle herself, just a constant feeling of being watched; and the town itself gives off a peaceful feel. In comparison to London, this is someone who knows the score -- someone who's been there, done that, and would like to settle down and rest now, please.

Every town, city, and village has its own personality, its own feel. Some are easier to learn than others, and some might seem to have none at all. A place's personality isn't just the land it's built on, the type of settlement, the age of the settlement, or the history and the people who live there. It's the sum of all those things, and a lot greater than all those things put together.

If your story doesn't need this level of world building, that's fine. If it does, though, and you pull it off... wouldn't it just make your story better?