I think about place in writing quite a bit. I’m currently in an MFA program that puts a lot of emphasis on writing place and writing environment. I work for a literary journal that considers itself devoted to place and environment. But what does that actually mean, I often wonder to myself. What is place in writing? What makes writing environmental?
The literary journal where I’m currently the Assistant Fiction Editor, and am taking over as Fiction Editor soon, is Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment. Recently, our group of incoming editors was talking about what makes place for us and what makes environmental. It seems we all had different ideas about the subject, but all our ideas also found common ground in some ways.
I consider place and environment in fiction to be simple: as long as I feel grounded in the work and get a sense of it belonging to a distinct world than I feel “place” has been satisfied. Place can be an alien world recently being explored as long as I get a sense that this world is fully alive within the mind of the writer and that translates to me as a reader. I think that ghost stories are intrinsically about place—what is a haunting but an entity tied to a place?
The environmental aspect is the same to me. One doesn’t have to be writing directly and concretely about saving forests, for one example. In fact, it’s the stories that don’t tackle things directly which most often have a profound effect on me as a reader.
So, what do the other editors of Flyway have to say?
Our awesome Social Media Editor, Erin Schmiel, says this: “Place to me is an ever moving thing. It begins in the rocks underneath me, but I travel over those quickly, from glacial beds of the Midwest and over the continental divide where the Earth’s plates thrust out of the ground and we call them the Rocky Mountains. Place for me is this Earth and all the activities on its surface and all the land features I call home. “–Erin, Ohio, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Montana, Iowa
Our wonderful poetry editors, William Bonfiglio and Samantha Futhey, have this to say:
“My first published poem was featured in Highlights Magazine™ when I was eleven years old. The piece, ‘In the Climbing Tree,’ examines the link between nature and the speaker, and my current poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and plays continue to build on the idea of place and the relationships between setting and characters. I use that word ‘relationships’ deliberately because environment, in even its most basic form, embodies that idea of interaction. No character is immune to the influence of place, and the best writing will reflect these ideas.”—William
“When I think about place-based and environmental writing, I first look at how the environment or place is portrayed. Can I image this place, even if it only exists in the imagination of the writer? Can I hear, smell, touch, see this place? If the place doesn’t have an authentic feel in the details, the place/environment must not be important to the story, poem, play, or essay and also not important to the characters/speaker or plot of the piece. I want to feel grounded in a place, whether its Yellowstone National Park, the narrator’s living room, or an urban gas station.
Environment also does not need to be limited to forests, rivers, and other so-called “wilderness” places. Man-made environments are places too.”—Samantha
So, here’s a question for you, Dear Reader, to consider: what do place and environment mean to you? As a reader? As a writer? What place can only you truly write your way into? Take this up as a challenge next time you’re working on a piece of writing. And, maybe, consider reading the wonderful pieces up at Flyway or send us some of your writing!