Beauty in Desolation
Hypothetical situation time! Imagine you're a cast member of The Jersey Shore. Uh, wait, wrong situation. Okay, imagine you're The Creator Of Everything - God, Mother Earth, a combo of geological and evolutionary forces, whatever floats your boat. Sweet! Now, what materials would you use to create the most stunning, beautiful landscape setting ever?
A. Sparkling waterfalls, lush trees and vines, brightly-colored foliage
B. Gleaming skyscrapers, the dawn sun, the silver machines of humanity
C. Golden sand, scattered white shells, and an endless ocean, OR...
Veery interesting. A, B, and C are all great. But if, as Creator, you chose D... you're my kind of all-powerful being.
Why? To answer that, let's take a quick trip to the American West, historical land of cowboys, gunfights, ghosttowns, and tons of other less stereotypical stuff. Yay!
In 2007, I traveled through the area on a road trip with my dad and sister. It's also one of the settings in my YA road trip novel (go figure!), Autochromatic. Most notably, the landscape itself is home to rocks. Looots of rocks.
Rocks. Dirt. Desert prairie. Canyons. Distant mountains. In the huge majority of areas, it's hot, dry, and desolate. Heck, the roads can last for miles and miles without a single sign of life. Unless you're visiting the Grand Canyon during tourist season, in which case... be prepared to stomp on some little kid feet to get a good view! (I wish I was kidding.)
It's no wonder the towns that popped up during the Gold Rush had to struggle to survive - and, little kid stomping aside, it's no wonder the Old West of the 1800's served as the backdrop to some authentic man-on-man violence. In a place with no life, what choice is there but to declare yourself alive? The sun beats down. Everything is hardened. Nothing is beautiful.
Or is it?
Rocks are dead and, when they're not selling for millions as jewelry or encasing dinosaur fossils, pretty boring. That's a generally accepted fact. It follows that in a book, a setting made up of rocks should be boring, too. Not fascinating like a rainforest, or awe-inspiring like a city, or soothing like a beach. But what if a bunch of rocks could create the most beautiful setting of 'em all?
That's the kind of thing writing makes possible.
In Autochromatic, protagonist Riley starts her drive through the West just when her life has taken a turn for the suck. She's lost a friend and found out a ton of stuff she didn't want to know. Her attention on her surroundings is limited, for sure, but what she sees strikes her hard. And when she visits the Grand Canyon, the emptiness gets to her like crazy. Along with that, though, she sees something else: beauty in desolation.
But on the other end of the spectrum, all settings - even ones as desolate as a rocky desert, or an abandoned suburban parking lot, or the Jersey shore (!) - can be made to come alive and be beautiful. It's all in perspective. Not just of the characters - of the writer, too.
I can't know for sure whether I succeeded backdrop-wise in Autochromatic, but it was deff one of my favorite parts of the book to write. Setting is an awesome tool. So jump on that horse and... uhh, I mean, open that Word doc, and start making things beautiful! What's your key to injecting beauty into a setting? And have you ever