The Heart and Craft of Writing

Lesson 7/15 - Place is a Character


The Heart and Craft of Writing


Lesson Info

Place is a Character

So, I wanna talk a little bit about place. Place is a character in your piece. Whether you're writing fiction or memoir, it's really, really important. And it does a whole lot in the world-building department, which we've talked about. So, you always want to be giving your, your venue as much attention as you can. Whatever city, or state, or country that your talking, that the story's getting put in, is really, really important. I mean, think about, like I'm thinking Beth Lisick's Bay Area, Cristy C. Road's Miami, Kate Braverman's Los Angeles, Kaui Hart Hemmings' Hawaii, Jean Genet's Paris, like, these are all writers that if you took the place out of their books, their books would fail. Like, and they're great strong writers with amazing characters. But without that landscape, I mean, just think about your own life, and how much you have been shaped by the place that you were raised in, you know. Your story is going to be shaped like that, by the place that it's set in. So it's really...

important to give a lot of attention to that. And it's fun for readers, it's really, I mean, think readers are reading your book for so many different reasons, right? To learn, to have feelings, to escape, it's entertainment, even if it's a hard story. They want to be fully immersed in your world. So, really honoring the place that it's all happening in, doing everything you can to really fill out the details is really cool. I love reading books that have a very strong sense of place. One time, I was reading a manuscript that a young writer gave me, and it's totally up my alley, I was excited to read it. It's like a young girl, coming of age in a rave scene, who, like, gets outta control on drugs, and makes dumb choices. And I'm like, sounds great, please send it to me. And I'm reading it, and I'm like, this is, like, interesting, but something is weird about it. What is weird about it? I don't feel grounded in it. Why isn't it drawing me in? And I realized, oh. I don't know where this is happening. So I said to her, you know, can you tell me where this is happening? And she was kind of sheepish about it. She was, like, Orlando, Florida. She was super embarrassed to be from Orlando, Florida. She hadn't, like, dealt with her internalized shame of being from Orlando, Florida. She had no shame about doing Ecstasy, and like, having, you know, affairs and all this other stuff, but she couldn't handle that she was from Florida. Which, and I was like, meanwhile, Orlando, Florida? Are you kidding me? That's amazing. Like, what must that be like? You know, like the swampy air, the water, you know, you're in the shadow of Disneyland, or Disney World, like, it's such a strange, strange place. And we're all kinda from strange places, you know? All of the places we're from are strange and magical in their own way. And it's your job as a writer to amp that up. Again, even if it's fiction. You know, where is this happening? Is it happening in suburbia, is it happening in the city, is it happening on an island? Amp it up. She went back and she put Orlando in the story, and it was so much better. It was really great. And also, by doing that, it triggered all these other stories, right? All these other anecdotes and scenes came into the book that kinda got left out because she had left, I mean look at that, don't you wanna walk into that, and read that book?

Class Description

If you’ve embarked on the process of writing your first book, there’s a good chance that you’re struggling a bit. Books are big, unwieldy creatures, and even the bravest of among us can feel overwhelmed by the thought of filling all those hundreds of blank pages with intelligent, effervescent words.

Award-winning author, editor and teacher Michelle Tea offers this class to help you believe in your abilities as a writer, stick to your goal and push through that first draft. She’ll outline some of the key tricks to writing a great book and inspire you to produce the vibrant, sparkling and unique work that’s inside your head and waiting to come out.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Be specific and avoid vagueness.
  • Bring your five senses to your writing by including sound, light, scent, texture and taste in every scene.
  • Find your pacing: write slow, write strong.
  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Build your unique voice and create a shelf of voices you wish your voice to be in conversation with.
  • Keep your editing brain away from your creative brain.



What a wonderful class! Michelle is knowledgeable, authentic, generous and open-hearted with her experience and advice. She offers a genuine sense of validation and practical tips for new writers. I especially liked her thoughts on how to carve out a space for your writing.

Irene Richards