Archive for the ‘Setting’ Category

Everyone Needs a Treehouse

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

 

 As a child, my favorite place was the cluster of trees which grew behind my childhood home. As a neighborhood hangout, several of the nearby children and I spent hours play-making here.  The trees provided a leafy canopy roof to the playhouse. I’d sweep the mud floor with a large branch, a nod to housekeeping.

Stones and the natural slope of the earth provided three clear rooms.  The living room’s entryway was marked by a worn path to low, overhanging branches, concealing our treasured hideaway and creating a cozy canopied roof.  A natural rise in dirt served as a couch while a rock became a chair.

Stepping above the couch was the bedroom, a small platform where an old doll slept.  She was someone else’s cast-off, my discovered treasure from an earlier exploring expedition deeper in the forest.

The kitchen, off to the left of the living room, consisted of piles of sticks and rocks serving as the stove and counter.  A path from the kitchen led to the backyard, which led to another grove of trees.  Here someone had built an actual wooden house in a tree.  A tree house, a house surrounded by trees, and yet a third structure:  tall, dried reeds, tilted together as a tee-pee.   Mother Nature provided Disneyland-like adventures for any child with an imagination.

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Ever since my youth I have sought out trees.  When my husband and I searched for a house and we discovered one amidst large, tall oak trees, we knew we were home.   The deck places me inside the branches.  This is where I relax, write, and meditate.

Writing Prompts:

  1. Even if you only have a small corner, you can create your own space.  Where is your place of comfort, imagination, and peace?
  2. Use your comfort place as an inspiration for a poem, story, or art work.
  3. Write about a time where you sought a setting to feed your creative spirit.
  4. What’s your favorite trip or adventure where you discovered a new setting which you loved?  Write about this place and your experience.

 

What WERE They Thinking?

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Toilet Paper bathroom real estate photoHairdresser Real Estate PhotoGranny Dummy Real Estate Photo

 

The photos above are from actual real estate agents attempting to sell their properties.

But wait!  What’s the story BEHIND the story?

Writing Prompts:

1. Using humor, choose one of the photos above to show the story behind the story.

2.  Create a poem or story utilizing an unusual point of view.   Who is the narrator?

3.  Read Terrible Estate Agent Photos by Andy Donaldson.  Allow yourself to draw on these to create stories in various genres:  mystery, science fiction, romance, nonfiction, etc.  Play with styles!

Visit terriblerealestateagentphotos.com for more ideas.

Make a Scene with Jordan Rosenfeld

Monday, April 14th, 2014

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How can you write a scene with emotional impact, reader involvement, and suspense? 

Author Jordan Rosenfeld spoke to the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch and shared valuable tips for writers of all genres.  

 With every scene you create, ask yourself, what is the point of the scene?  Does it move your story forward, or is it just a block of setting description?  In showing setting, make your character interact with her surroundings

Great advice!  I critiqued manuscripts at one conference where a writer created a lovely Victorian Christmas which dominated the first chapter.  I suggested she weave in the setting elements as the character acted and reacted, foreshadowing the mystery ahead. 

She said, “Great idea!  But this house doesn’t play a role in the rest of my story at all.”  So why include it?  Once she began writing with her plot and character in mind, her character acted, reacted, and experienced the setting through sensory images.  It wasn’t overblown this time, and she created a reason for her scene to be there: she introduced characters and hinted at the mystery coming.

Rosenfeld advised writers create tension through emotional complexity.  Characters can experience more than one feeling at a time.  The uncertainty can be showed through their thoughts and dialogue, the writer’s word choice, how a word sounds, and imagery

For more information, read her book, Make Scenes, published through Writer’s Digest, and visit her website:  www.jordanrosenfeld.net  

Writing Prompts:

  1. It’s your turn!  Create a scene by involving your character in the setting shown through the elements above.  Make sure your scene moves the story’s plot forward.  Ask yourself:  Why must it be here?
  2. Tony Serra, attorney for Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Cow, at a federal court appearance said, “Law enforcement is supposed to investigate crime and criminal activity.  In this case, they created crime and criminal activity.”  (Source:  Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle.)  Use this quote to create a scene employing Rosenfeld’s advice. 
  3. Write an article, nonfiction piece, or essay with a scene focusing on the tips above.

 

Write Out of the Box!

Monday, January 13th, 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.

How’s Your Sniffer?

Thursday, October 17th, 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?

Monday, May 27th, 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

Monday, April 8th, 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

Monday, January 7th, 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

Thursday, October 18th, 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?