Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Place:The Importance of Setting (Part II)- Melanie M. Jeschke

Time and place are the two aspects of setting in a work of fiction. In this post, I will discuss the importance of “place” in my Oxford Chronicles series. The place of a story can serve as a plot catalyst, but it can also serve as creative inspiration. In fact, the idea for the series came from my first publisher after he looked at photos I had taken of Oxford and the Eagle and Child pub. “What do you think about setting a novel around that pub and the writers (the Inklings) who met there?” he asked, and from that seed of inspiration grew my first book Inklings.

As I’ve traveled to different locales, various impressions and observations find their way into my storylines. Cambo House outside St. Andrew’s, Scotland, led to the pre-WWII love story in Evasions of Eric and Laurene. Having spent the night myself in the “dowager” wing of the mansion, sleeping uneasily in a Victorian tester bed in a capacious room with heavy curtains and mahogany wardrobes, I could easily describe those details when Laurene is quarantined with the flu to her grandmother’s room. Walking St. Andrew’s famous golf course with my friends enabled me to understand Eric’s love for the game and the fun he has finding lost golf balls in the gorse. And our adventurous drive up into the highlands to stay in a lighthouse near Gairloch led me to incorporate that starkly beautiful landscape into the frame story of the MacKenzie clan. Thanks to the generosity of the C.S. Lewis Foundation, I was able to spend a night in Lewis’s home the Kilns; in fact, I slept in his bedroom. Well to be honest, I was so excited I could barely sleep! However, that night allowed me to “experience” a little of what living at the Kilns could have felt like for Annie Little when she finds refuge there as a wartime evacuee.

Expectations opens in Oxford, but quickly moves to Paris. Since I had lived there for a semester, I could easily place David and Kate in my Passy apartment with a skyline view of the Eiffel Tower. I had attended a bilingual school with some illustrious classmates, including the granddaughter of Winston Churchill and daughter of the British ambassador, who kindly invited all the girls in our class to her birthday dinner party at the British embassy. I was dazzled by the embassy with its ornate ballroom and Queen Victoria’s throne, which the queen never sat on but we schoolgirls did. My memories, as well as my diary entries from that important time in my life, gave me rich sensory details for the story I was to write decades later.

These kinds of details belonging to “place” can bring verisimilitude to one’s writings as well as trigger numerous plot points. Discovering the right setting, both in time and place, could be the key to unlocking a successful story.

Melanie Morey Jeschke (pronounced “Jĕsʹ-key”) is the author of The Oxford Chronicles series, including Inklings, Intentions, Expectations, and Evasions, as well as Jillian Dare, the Oxford chapter of Rick Steves’ England guidebook, and numerous travel articles. An honors graduate of the University of Virginia with a MA in English Literature from George Mason University, she is currently an adjunct professor of English and lectures in a variety of educational, professional, and community settings. Melanie Jeschke has studied at Oxford University and has traveled extensively in the UK where she sets her stories. A mother of nine and former home-educator, she resides in Northern Virginia with her family and husband Bill Jeschke, senior pastor of The King’s Chapel in Clifton, VA.

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