Wednesday 3 July 2024

Managing expectations

 I've just finished reading a book - spooky goings on and ghosts - where it was mentioned several times that good things rarely happen in basements. Very true. Places where young women should not venture in the dark when the local serial killer is on the loose. 

It got me thinking about 'short cuts' in novels - ways of telegraphing expectations to the reader. This can be very obvious - publishers' obsession with covers showing women in red coats running thorough various landscapes to denote a thriller is an obvious one - but it can be more subtle than that. 

As in life - a phone ringing between the hours of midnight and 5 am is unlikely to be  a Good Thing. Basements are creepy - although for some reason a cellar doesn't have quite the same connotation, possibly because of the link in the mind to wine cellar? 

Attics mean secrets - storage for old papers, dressing up boxes, childhood debris. You can have a good time in an attic. I had fun in A Villa in Portofino making mine virtually empty, but of course there was still a room full of luggage.  A character who announces they are going up to the attic - well, you just know they are going to Find Something. Libraries and studies mean books and papers, desks and filing cabinets so more potential for secrets. Kitchens equal meals and baking - places of comfort. Similarly cafes. 

Town houses, cottages, mansions, lofts - all property that denotes a certain style of life and inhabitant. Writing seasonal and festive books gives you a whole lexicon of images from carved pumpkins to fairy lights and tinsel to set a scene. 

At the moment I am heavily into creating a garden. Now gardens can have multiple personalities. The one I am working on is a sanctuary - a place where a WWI veteran coped with his shell shock and decades later a woman running from an abusive marriage can find a refuge. But I also have in mind another story with a derelict garden, a creepy half ruined green house, maybe a falling down summer house ... 

Some things are great for signifying an activity or a mood - but it's also good to have a wide open canvas. 

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