Tag Archives: setting

Look Around


  Settings and descriptions are easy to find. Look around. Did you notice anything while driving to work this morning? How about the guy in the car next to you? I bet he picked his nose without even considering someone would see him. By the way, there are a couple of teenage boys walking along the sidewalk, but it’s a school day, so why are they out and about? Observations can lead to interesting questions for writers. Small details in description allow your readers to experience the story, not just read it. Where do you find these details?

Like I said, look around.

Driving through North Carolina, there is a vast landscape of imagery apt for writing. The Research Triangle Park (RTP), surrounded by prominent universities and corporate headquarters, is ripe for a high-tech setting. Drive a few miles out and you find tobacco and corn fields burning under an early summer heat wave. I recently discovered a few gems and have tucked them away for a future project:

  • A Baptist church with brick framed sign advertising “Massage Therapy. Walk Ins Welcome”
  • A farm-house with a perfectly manicured lawn sporting a 70’s era tan sedan in the car port nearly invisible under a growth of kudzu
  • Stumpy’s Taxidermy (do I really need to explain that one?)

I translated some of the scenery and the questions it invoked into the passage below. By writing without a plot in mind, this exercise lets my imagination explore the “what if’s”. Sometimes it even turns into a new story.

“The two-lane highway curved in and around woods, past weedy horse pastures, and bordered fields freshly plowed for late spring crops. Each sign of animal habitation was mirrored by human habitation in the form of wood-frame houses void of paint or posh. This isn’t the part of the country big on appearances. Labor was born of the need to feed families, pay off back debt on acreage and to scrape out a living. There was no money for house painting or landscaping beyond a mower.

Casey turned her ten-year old Ford pickup onto a gravel road, wincing at the sharp ruts that bucked the truck like a rodeo bull. Sweet tea sloshed over the top of her Hardee’s cup and left a glistening rivulet across her arm. She ignored it.

The white outline of the church revealed itself through a veil of dark green leaves. A downburst of wind parted branches for just a second and she could see the modest wooden steeple against a Carolina blue sky.

Craven Baptist Church was founded in 1823 and had stood facing the eastern sunrise ever since. First, her four times great-grandfather cut a clearing and laid in pine benches and a slab of granite for an altar. Sixteen years later, his son built a small church on the same site. The building now in its place was a young 75 years old. Vines twisted along the roof edge and the air was thick with honey suckle. Plywood sealed the windows and the front door, while padded locked on one side, stood ajar from its hinges on the other.

The cemetery would be in the back, hidden in the undergrowth and guarded by snakes.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever use this in a project, but the exercise is a good writing warm up so you can sneak past your inner critic:).


Let’s Talk About the Weather


August 26, 2011

 
The skies this morning were mostly clear, however, the air remains thick with tropical moisture. A hot wind scatters sun burned leaves. This is late summer in North Carolina. Two months of scant rain is forcing trees to drop shade while occasional “cool days”, as in under 90F, lets you imagine chilly football games and Halloween costumes. This is hurricane season.

Just days after a rare earthquake felt in tiny to moderate rumbles from Toronto to South Carolina, we’re bunkering down for Hurricane Irene. I’m fortunate to not be in the direct path; rather my neighborhood will experience stiff 50 mph winds and rain. That’s normal for an old-fashioned thunderstorm in this part of the country.

Now here is how it relates to writing. Hold on to your laptops….. your characters experience earthquakes and weather. Shocking, I know.

I’m a weather junkie. If disaster is falling from the sky, I’m glued to the Weather Channel and taking pictures. Freak 2-foot snowstorm? Documented. Standing in the eye of Hurricane Fran… got that too. Just think how powerful your hero’s scene would be if he/she crawled through a wind savaged parking lot, trying to rescue their loved one? How do I know they’re crawling? Have you tried to stand up when the wind speed is over 60 mph?

As writers, we can use our real life experiences during extreme conditions and situations to tighten the tension in our stories and add realism that draws in readers. Add details that involve the senses. How does the air feel on their skin? What color is the sky? After a hurricane, the sky is amazingly clear, and the tropic induced sunset is breathtaking. That’s the reward for surviving nature’s battering.

A snow storm plays a critical role in Perfect Copy, while the conclusion for my WIP, Anatomy of a Lie, is shaped by a hurricane. Take a moment to think of where in your story your characters could be helped or hampered by weather conditions. Have you described your character’s frustration, joy, the forces shaping his/her actions?

The eye of Hurricane Fran moved through central NC, right over my apartment. Power went out around 11pm as winds intensified. From my upstairs window, we watched green flashes silhouetting the bent trees as electrical transformers exploded. During the night, the steady howl calmed, drawing myself and neighbors outside to see the damage. Trees lay across cars, but it was too dark to make out much more. We were standing in the eye. Moments later the east side of the side began to pass over and dump over 16 inches of rain and $2.4 Billion in damage. I lived without electricity for a week, grateful for a gas stove and water heater:)

Rain, sleet or snow… weather facts have built-in drama.

Outer Bands of Hurricane Irene, Central NC


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