Archive for the ‘Setting’ Category

Write Out of the Box!

January 13, 2014

“If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” Juan Ramon Jimenez

In kindergarten, my son’s teacher gave each student a construction paper Christmas stocking along with decorations. Their assignment? Cut them out and glue them too look like her example.

A couple other mother-volunteers and I entered the room while teacher and class were on the playground for recess.

“Look at all their stockings,” said one mom.

Each stocking was hung, identically in a row along the wall. They could have been mimeographed in their sameness.

“Wow,” said the other mom, observing one stocking decorated with magic marker Christmas figures on the tiny white edge of the stockings’ perimeter.
“Who did that one?” said the first mom.
They peered closely at the small signature.
It was Tofer.

I write this anecdote not to brag, but to show how one five-year-old figured a way to be creative even with a cut and paste assignment.

How will you show your individuality with your writing or art?

Writing Prompts:
1. Select one of your scenes you’ve already written. How can you make it yours and only yours?
2. Make one of your characters quirky. What distinguishes this character from every other one in your book? A particular secret, trait, or passion may allow her to be amusing or annoying or lovable!
3. Create a setting that shows its character. Being specific creates identifiable reactions and emotions within your readers. Can you show nostalgia? A comfort setting? A suspenseful place? Remember sounds, smells and even tastes will allow your readers to feel like they are there.

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How’s Your Sniffer?

October 17, 2013

Everyone I know has their nose in their peanut butter jar. A recent study has shown people who have Alzheimer’s or later develop the disease couldn’t smell peanut butter while plugging their right nostril and sniffing with their left. (There are exceptions: if you have nose polyps, Parkinson’s Disease, or have had head trauma you won’t be able to smell the peanut butter either.)

I knew Parkinson’s would be an exception. When I was a child, my father never could smell anything. Bad milk in the frig? Dad would start pouring and Mom would grab the glass before he brought it to his mouth.

Scared skunk in the back yard? Mom ran to close the windows as Dad unknowingly opened them. I wonder now – – was this an early sign that in Dad’s later life he’d suffer from Parkinson’s? Did Michael J. Fox have a poor sniffer when he was young, too?

I inherited my mom’s sniffer, occasionally to unfortunate consequences. As a person who suffers from migraines which can be set off by scented chemicals, the overpowering smells of perfume, hairspray and cologne and have been known to make me change seats in church, movie theaters and actually leave places if the mixing of aromas are too strong. When Dad moved out to California after my mother passed away, it was the last of his Old Spice days for the poor man.

Supposedly, we choose our mate on the basis of scent. Diane Ackerman, in Natural History of the Senses, says, “Each person has an odor as distinctive as a finger print.” And: “We smell always and with every breath.”

In our writing, the sense of smell is easy to overlook. Although we may not naturally include this sensory image within our first draft, we need to remember to include moments of them within our rewrites.

Here’s an example of using the sense of smell to bring a setting alive. This paragraph is from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

“The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell–as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world. It smelled of grain and of harness dressing and of axle grease and of rubber boots and of new rope. And whenever the cat was given a fish-head to eat, the barn would smell of fish. But mostly it smelled of hay, for there was always hay in the great loft up overhead. And there was always hay being pitched down to the cows and the horses and the sheep.”

Writing Prompts:

1. Look through a writing project of yours. Is there a natural place one or more scents could be woven within the manuscript?

2. Go back to your past. It could be a long-ago classroom, childhood room, or a favorite place. Meditate so that YOU ARE THERE. Include as many specific scents as you can.

3. Create a poem based on the scents of a setting of your choice.

4. Go ahead. You know you want to do it. Go smell that peanut butter with your left nostril. But don’t get freaked out if you can’t smell it. You may have a cold, allergies or some other issue at work. If you can smell it, eat some and then use all of your senses to describe the experience.

Where is the beauty in your world?

May 27, 2013

Thanks for sharing this amazing film.  Making music from trash found in a landfill!  There is beauty in the world . . . we just need to know where to look. 

Comment from Joanne

Writing Prompt Inspired by Joanne’s Comment:

Where do you find beauty in your world?  Write a poem, personal narrative or story about this topic.   Make it a sensory experience.

Workshop on Writing the Novel in Contra Costa County

April 8, 2013

WORKSHOP & BUFFET LUNCHEON

Architecture of Long Works in Fiction and Nonfiction

Saturday, April 13, 2013

9am to 1:30pm

Jane Vandenburgh is the author of two novels, the award-winning Failure to Zigzag and The Physics of Sunset. Her nonfiction includes the memoir A Pocket History of Sex in the 20th Century and The Wrong Dog Dream: A True Romance, a memoir recently published by Counterpoint Press.

Based on many years of teaching writing, Jane wrote Architecture of the Novel on the craft of structuring the longer narrative.

From it she will share such tips as:

*The elemental nature of narrative: a story consists of its events, told in scenes

*Placing scenes along the natural arc of the story in an order that provides suspense and mystery

*Drawing characters toward the inevitability of their destinies

*The maps and mechanics of any long work

Sign-in is 9 – 9:30 am, workshop 9:30 – 12:15, and luncheon from 12:30 to 1:30 pm Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill, CA. Registration is $35, or $40 for non-CWC members; contact Jean Georgakopoulos at jeaniegpops@comcast.net, or phone 925-934-5677 for reservations.

The Couch IS Important

January 7, 2013

At a recent breakfast date, a friend leaned toward me over the table and asked, “Tell me, is Mary rich?”

I had been inside her home. “Everything in her house matches,” I said.

My friend laughed. We both had grown up poor so she knew what I meant. Mary was rich in our eyes.

Every piece in Mary’s lovely home did look expensive. Colorful tapestries showing European influences decorated the floors; delicate china and glassware displayed in dark cherry cabinets. A silver teapot and tray sparkled in the sunlight. Art work on the walls had been purchased from her travels from all around the world.

I remember a few years ago I was so proud we were able to get a matching white couch and chair for our living room. But when our son, who lives on the opposite coast, came for a visit and walked into our house, his jaw dropped. “Oh no!” he said. “One of those houses! It’s white and sterile and not comfy. This is not how we are.”

He turned and walked through our kitchen into our cluttered and mismatched family room. “Ah, he said. This is us.”

Writing Prompts:

1. Does your house reflect who you are? Describe the room that best shows your personality.
2. In your most recent project, write about your main character’s bedroom or favorite place to be. Does she hang out in the forest behind her back yard? Does she love her high-rise office overlooking the Oakland Bay Bridge? Does he cherish his music room? Describe your character’s actions in this room.
3. Write a short story or poem showing how setting is important to the theme or plot of the story.
4. Write about the importance of one object in an essay, poem or story. How can it fuel the plot?
5. Does your character collect any objects? Have a special style? Does she or he fit in with his surroundings? Stand out in any way? Write a scene to show the answers to these questions.

Read Like a Writer

October 18, 2012

As writers, we read differently than most people.  It’s hard not to read just for the pleasure of the story and the characters without appreciating exactly how the author is excelling in his craft. 

Recently, I read The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson.  The book’s publicity says it “intertwines the true tale of the 1893 World’s Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death.” 

I found the book on a library sale table and read it for its nonfiction narrative, and probably would have not bought it had I paid attention to the serial killer description, as it isn’t to my own personal tastes.  However, I will say it was a powerful, well-researched story that read like a novel. 

Here are two examples of setting I marked as examples of writing that stood out for me:

“The light in the room was sallow, the sun already well into its descent.  Wind thumped the windows.  In the hearth at the north wall a large fire cracked and lisped, flushing the room with a dry sirocco that caused frozen skin to tingle.”  

“Leaves hung in the stillness like hands of the newly dead.”    

Writing Prompt: 

  1. Look at the project you are working on at the moment.  What is happening with the light in your current scene?  The weather?  Sounds?  How does your character physically react?
  2. Using a theme of your book, create a simile like Larson did with leaves. 
  3. As you read, keep post-it notes handy and place them next to portions of writing which you admire.  Later, discover how the author crafted those pieces.  How can you model these within your own writing?