Writing Tips: A Sense of Place

by Matilda Butler on January 24, 2012

Writing Prompt LogoPost #127 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Writing Tip: An Artist’s View of Sense of Place

This weekend we visited the Portland Museum of Art. The enticing piece of art that drew us there was Titian’s newly restored La Bella: Woman in a Blue Dress. Although there is much I could write about it, I’d like to discuss another painting, a favorite that we have paid honor to multiple times.

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, writing tipsThe artwork shown here is Albert Bierstadt’s 1869 Mount Hood. Let me share with you some of the text from the didactic that hangs next to it:

“…Bierstadt’s fame came from his dramatic landscapes of the American West. He composed paintings in his New York and London studios from the sketches, notes, and small oil studies that he made during his extended travels across the Western U.S. The resulting works are designed to give urban viewers a sense of place rather than a realistic record of a particular location.”

A View of Memoir Writing and Describing Place

Viewers of our lives through memoirs can never have been in the place where we have been at the same time and under the same circumstances. When we describe place, we are summing across the many times that we saw that place. Do we describe it on Day 1, Day 100, Day 1000?

Describe place with as much detail as possible. After all, your story happened some place (or multiple places). Anchor your story by building the scene for your reviewers, knowing that you will only create a sense of place for your readers rather than recreating the exact place.

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Nancy LaTurner January 24, 2012 at

“Anchor your story by building the scene…” — so true! Memoir writers would do well to keep this in mind — with the emphasis on “sense of place,” rather than trying to describe every detail of the environment in a way that might distract the reader from the overall theme of the memoir. Thanks for the excellent advice!

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