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AWARD WINNING AUTHOR

Writing in the Sunshine. Writing in the Shadows.


Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Locations for atmosphere

I was reading an article in History Today recently about castles - and how they have moved from being terrifying places of battle and repression to romantic tourist attractions driven by the stories - from the likes of Sir Walter Scott - that have been woven around them.

Castles used to be scary places -
though not this one. Castell Coch is a
Victorian folly. But a much earlier building on
the site could have been very different. 

It made me think about the use to which landscapes and buildings can be put in the devious mind of the writer, Churches are places of peace and sanctuary, but they are also large spaces with shadowy corners that can be described in a way that makes them feel scary and sinister.  Woodland can be idyllic - full of birds and bluebells, but after dark ...

What about modern spaces like multi story car parks? Even children's playgrounds, when they are deserted. How often has the image of the deserted roundabout or swing been used to  denote something frightening? Places that are usually full of people, like fairgrounds or shopping centres, can be particularly threatening when empty, simply because of that contrast.

Darkness and absence of people are two particular tools that will manipulate the most innocent building into something threatening.

Light and people do the opposite - think busy cafes, villages with shops and tourist attractions. My favourite location for the romantic comedies that I set on the Riviera is a beautiful villa, bathed in sunshine, with a pool and a garden. And gardens give you scent. Can the smell of jasmine ever be threatening? I suppose it could, if it had unpleasant associations?

Even light itself - candle light can be the epitome of romance or a very chancy means of illumination in a different setting. The weather is also a factor - a landscape that can be benign on a sunny day can be terrifying in snow or storm.

Locations can be used too as shorthand for atmosphere. Say 'graveyard' and you immediately think creepy - Gothic shadows and fog.  'Alley' conjures up a narrow space with grime and litter.

Sound is powerful. Silence can be oppressive and think of the effect of some small sound - footsteps say, in the knave of a church that is mean to be empty.

Using settings against the grain can also work - an Italian city where you are expecting beauty and culture, a beautiful beach turned into something threatening.

I've used a number of these locations and ideas for scary stuff. I need to think up a few more. The idea of a deserted beach appeals - maybe with sand dunes?

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