The Power of Place In Writing Visionary Fiction – Jodine Turner

Editor’s Note: We are posting this repeat of one of our readers’ most commented upon articles, with some new additions. We invite you to share your thoughts and continue the discussion!

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Have you ever thought about the power of place, of setting, in writing your Visionary Fiction novel?

In The Writer’s Chronicle, (Vol. 51, Oct-Nov, 2018), Sarah Van Arsdale explains that “…setting allows the story to evolve, and creates the atmosphere that allows characters to behave as they will, which in turn gives a story its emotion propulsion.” She goes on to point out that a well-crafted description of setting immerses the reader in a physical way, engaging their bodies. The reader feels the humidity of a tropical paradise; smells the damp leaf mold of an old forest; tastes the honey sweet promise of ripened apples in an apple orchard.

Despite Van Arsdale’s compelling definition, the setting in many novels, while described, is often nonspecific. Meaning that, while setting itself is crucial, the specificity of the setting is oftentimes not fleshed out. Is this important? The high school romance between Bella and Edward in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight could have begun in any modern high school cafeteria. Dan Millman’s Visionary Fiction novel, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, could have been set in any gas station, and in any university town, and still retain the thrust of the story.

Harper Lee, author of the classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, said in a 1961 interview, “People will be people anywhere you put them.” She set her story in a nonspecific, generic Southern town she named Maycomb. The story could have taken place anywhere in the South during the early 1930’s. But what was important, and more specific, was that it was indeed set in the South. And the town of Maycomb represented a conglomeration of the Southern culture, tradition, and societal influences that shaped her story and her characters’ experiences.

Still, as Van Arsdale points out, it is the thorough description, the specificity of a unique setting, that often deepens an author’s ability to “learn more about their characters, and to have at their disposal the physical things that help move the plot forward.” Could James Hilton’s classic, Lost Horizon, be set anywhere other than Shangri-La, the earthly paradise hidden in the Himalayan Mountains? Or in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland – Alice could have fallen down a mining pit, a well hole, or her rabbit hole, but what was significant is that the hole led her down into the magical realm of Wonderland. And this magical setting colored how the story unfolded. Peter Pan’s adventures would not have been the same if they were not experienced specifically in Neverland. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code needed to take place within the religious structures found in Italy. It couldn’t have happened anywhere else. These latter examples illustrate how there are also many novels where a specific setting is central to the story. Place can be key in writing a novel. Story can be shaped by place. Place can even function as a main character in a novel. This is especially so within the genre of Visionary Fiction.

The Power of Place within Visionary Fiction Visionary Fiction authors write in a unique genre, one that infuses story with spiritual and metaphysical themes meant to catalyze shifts of consciousness. Certain

specific places – such as sacred sites, places of legend, places of energy locus, or places of spiritual activation – have qualities that can interact with and influence a character’s transformational arc, and enable their shifts in consciousness. Think of places such as Lourdes, Mecca, Atlantis, the Elvin Otherworld Realm, Sedona, or Camelot. It is precisely because of their unique geographical, archetypal, or mythical energies, that such specific places will influence a story’s characters. Yes, Harper Lee, people will be people anywhere you put them. But certain settings can exert a powerful influence, no matter what character is placed there. By their very nature, such special places act as agents of change. They are instrumental in accelerating transformations in a character, in stimulating their growth. In these special and specific places, there is an inter-dependent relationship between character and place. This relationship fosters the interactions that serve to inspire a character’s development. Because of this, setting can function much like a story character.

Place plays a specific and foundational role in my Visionary Fiction novels. In particular, it is Glastonbury, England that inspires my writing and my characters. When I first read the classic novel, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, I was enchanted with the story’s setting in Glastonbury, the ancient Isle of Avalon. After reading the novel, I visited Glastonbury and found I had a kinship with the land and its legends. So much so that upon arriving there, I had the overwhelming compulsion to bend down and kiss the very earth. While I (barely) managed to restrain myself, that feeling reinforced the idea that specific settings powerfully influence us. And they influence our characters. I eventually moved to Glastonbury for 13 months in order to immerse myself in its energy and do research for my books. While living in Glastonbury, I would make daily excursions to the Chalice Well, one of its more powerful sacred sites. Spending time in the Chalice Well Gardens quenched a deep longing within me as only the fulfillment of a spiritual quest can do. During my daily visits, I would experience spontaneous waking visions that stirred my soul and informed my writing. I studied the local folklore – the Arthurian, Celtic, Goddess, pre-Christian, Pagan, and Christian legends. Glastonbury taught me to explore the realms of mystery and magic, and helped me to discover worlds seen and unseen. The worlds that lay parallel to our everyday existence. These are the worlds that Visionary Fiction is created from.

By tapping into the energy inherent in the land, into its realms of myth and archetype, I was able to weave visionary and magical aspects through my novels. I used all of my experiences, my interactions with the land of Glastonbury, and began to write my Goddess of the Stars and the Sea series about priestesses who have lived in Avalon throughout the ages up through today. Glastonbury remains one of my favorite spots on earth. The Chalice Well Gardens, the beacon-like hill called the Tor – all the sacred places and sites I was introduced to through reading The Mists of Avalon – touched the core of my being, and continue to inspire the characters, content, and setting of all of my Visionary Fiction stories. Can you think of other examples of novels where setting played a key role in the story? How has place inspired your writing?

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12 thoughts on “The Power of Place In Writing Visionary Fiction – Jodine Turner

  1. Michael Neer says:

    HI Jodine:
    Great post. Yes, I agree that setting or place is a character in the novel. As we grow in consciousness, we begin to realize that all of the relative world is just an expression of our larger Self, and thus the setting is really us, or our characters. Ineracting with the place is more and more an interaction with our deeper Self. That’s why many traditions have relied on totems, or talismans, or symbols — not because they are clever or natural — but because they are real aspects of who we are. Setting has been critical in my novels; my characters unfold through the place; they transform in their world to know it more. I have even drawn maps of the setting to guide my readers — and my characters. Thanks for a good article and bringing attention to a very important aspect of visionary fiction. — M. R. Neer, author of The Elixir of Freedom and Junah Tales:Fables for a Healthy Happy Life (Silver Award Winner).

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    • Jodine Turner says:

      You’re welcome, Michael. I agree, characters deeply transform through place, especially a distinct and relevant setting. And yes, your comment that place is an extension of our their larger Selves is insightful and brings a deeper layer of characterization to light!

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  2. christinagreenaway says:

    Thank you for this article Jodine. Settings serve as a constant source of inspiration to inspire me. I must fall in love a little bit with each place I write about, and I begin that journey with Earth herself. I gaze at photos of our planet taken in space, marveling at her beauty. I think of the myriad of cosmic forces and supreme intelligence that gave birth to our galaxy. How blessed am I to be a part of this? How can I write a story that imparts the wonder of life on Earth?

    I too read and loved the “Mists of Avalon” when it first came out. Your time in Glastonbury sounds like a writer’s dream. I was born and raised not too far away, in Mevagissey, Cornwall. Arthurian legends colored my childhood. I still love to climb the ruins of Tintagel, Arthur’s castle nestled on a massive rock that protrudes into the stormy seas of the North Atlantic.

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    • Jodine Turner says:

      Christina, I love your comment “I must fall in love a little bit with each place I write about.” Lovely. Your childhood home in Cornwall sounds magical. I’ve also climbed the ruins of Tintagel, and walked on its beaches. The massive sea cave sang its song of mystery and imagination to me.

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  3. reanolanmartin says:

    Jodine, Place is extremely important to me, and definitely rates high on the list of characters I develop in any story. I would further state that place is a critical element of any VF story, especially considering that for us any setting is freshly created (or at least recreated) in a mystical, multi-dimensional sense. As for other novels, OVERSTORY springs to mind as a recent VF tale that uses Nature as both place and character. The specificity the author uses in describing his forests and continental network of trees is awe-inspiring. I will never think of a tree again in the same way. Thanks for a thoughtful and thought-provoking post!

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  4. Jodine Turner says:

    thank you, Rea. I will definitely look into Overstory as I, too, have a love and respect for trees and their inter-connectedness. I’ve particularly done a lot of getting to know the willow tree in my backyard these past few years through contemplation, ritual, and meditation. Apple trees and hawthorn are magical trees, legends says they are portals to Faery, and they play heavily in my current manuscript.

    I would agree, that place is particularly important to VF. I like how you put it – ” in a mystical, multi-dimensional sense.”

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  5. margaretduarte says:

    Setting matters! I so agree with you, Jodine, about the importance of setting in all genres, and especially visionary fiction. Specific setting central to the story is a prerequisite for all the books I choose to read. Recent (visionary) novels I’ve read where setting plays a key role are: Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s THE ANGEL’S GAME, Zoe Klein’s DRAWING IN THE DUST, and WM. Paul Young’s EVE.

    I’d like to suggest that members of Visionary Fiction Alliance select books from our soon-to-be established bookstore and review them (via a blog post or a specific spot on our site for reviews) with such things in mind as setting. The VFA bookstore should become a central and trusted place for readers to find and/or discover quality visionary work. With so many VF books available on such online retailers as Amazon, we need a way to highlight visionary fiction that deserves recognition.

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    • Jodine Turner says:

      Excellent Writers Digest article, Robin. Thanks for the link. I really liked the comment I read there, “the combination of setting details and the emotions attached to them that, together, make a place a living thing. Setting comes alive partly in its details and partly in the way that the story’s characters experience it.”

      The various sacred sites in the Glastonbury/Avalon setting in my novels interacts with my characters, catalyzing their transformations. I’m sure I write about Glastonbury because that actual setting has been the catalyst for huge transformations in my own life – spiritual and emotional – and I also met my husband there!

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  6. Saleena Karim says:

    Jodine, it was fascinating to read about your strong spiritual connection to Glastonbury. I can see how that connection comes through in your Goddess of the Stars and the Sea series.

    Indeed place is more often than not quite important in stories if not centrally so. Examples that came to my mind were The Chronicles of Narnia, One Thousand and One Nights (or Arabian Nights), and The Matrix. These places are either real or connected to real places, or they are entirely invented as frequently is the case in fantasy and sci-fi.

    My own VF was based in New York state, and used a fictional city. Many stories are based in New York City, but I invented a city because I wanted its name to reflect a facet of the story I was telling. I still chose New York state as the wider setting though, because the famous city represents modernity, fast living, the race to success, and liberty.

    Thanks for such a great article, Jodine!

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  7. Jodine Turner says:

    Thank you, Saleena. Such a great creative choice to base your story in New York State but in a fictional city therein that has all the qualities you mentioned. Brilliant way to have place flesh out the story.

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