The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #7– Setting

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Good morning! So, here we are. Working our way through the bulleted list on Novel Writing. Today is about setting, but before I build up that world, I would like to remind you:

Keep in mind, there are many intricacies to writing a novel. It can’t all be learned in 7 points. Or 25. Or even 100. Most novelists have one or two ‘starter’ novels that never see the light of day. Because the process of writing a complete novel is, in itself, the real lesson of what does and doesn’t work. Until you do it, write it, fight through it, you won’t truly grasp which elements are most important, and how to get through the problems that you will inevitably face.

Now–on to Setting.

Setting is the world where your characters live, where the plot takes place and what influences those major themes. Setting includes physical space (mountains, city, country, house, street, etc), time period (modern day, future, Elizabethan England), multiplied by fiction and non-fiction (3050 space opera set on a distant planet versus 1944 Italy during the Second World War).

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I am a firm and staunch believer that setting is, itself, integral as a character in your story. Setting will dictate so much of your novel. The physical and temporal surroundings of your characters limit or promote certain behaviors, patterns of speech, choices, and opportunities. The setting, say a creepy old house on the coast of Maine, can even be a character itself, lending an influential factor to the events that play out. (Wouldn’t be the same if Destiny Harrison had moved into a swanky new apartment in L.A.)

My first piece of advice for setting is that if it is someplace or some time you aren’t personally familiar with, do a shit-ton (yes, that’s a real measurement) of research. If you can (time-machines not withstanding) visit the place, the area. Get a feel for it. Even better, do it in the season or hour that takes place in your novel.

If you have a scene on the harbor at dawn, your description will be more apt if you’ve been on a harbor at dawn. If you’ve never seen the bursting yellow of aspens in October, it’s hard to capture the exact shade of gold against the pinion green.

Secondly, when building the world of your novel, utilize all the senses. How does the sunlight break over the mountain? In dusty, slow waves or in a brilliant flash? Does the air feel crisp on the tongue or heavy with heat? What do you hear? This all goes hand in hand with showing the audience, not telling. Jack didn’t feel the heat of the fire. The fire seeped beneath his skin.

Thirdly, when you approach setting it is VITAL to find the balance between description and information dump. A common mistake (in my humble opinion) in even the most prolific writer, is to go on a little too long building the “world moment” to the point the reader is bogged down or the pace slows. Now, I understand, that some novels require a good solid understanding of their worlds (often if it’s unfamiliar to the reader– ie a sci-fi/fantasy or historical fiction). But, if you can manage, feed these tidbits to the reader throughout. Think snacking not gorging. Offer what is relevant, what moves or enhances the scene, or gives hints or important clues for later on in the book, then draw back and let the audience digest it.

Setting is a great place to build imagery, be a little poetic, and really put your reader in the middle of your novel. Similarly, sometimes the most simple of descriptions can be effective so don’t overwhelm with too long or heavy paragraphs.

Make it a living, breathing entity of the book, something that becomes part of the whole in a way that is inseparable from the action, characters, dialogue and voice.

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This week, look at your work in progress, pick out a particularly rough scene and ask yourself what’s going on with the setting. How can it influence or help your characters actions? Look at your longer paragraphs, are there moments where your readers might be caught in a deluge of description? Boil it down to the instrumental aspects of setting. What tone does it overlay? Does that enhance the other pieces?

Okay. Good luck out there. Let me know how it goes.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #11: Nothing But Time (and a few expletives)

Hello writers and readers…so by today…wait, what day is it?

Fuck if I know.

I don’t know the last time I took a shower, or ate something that wasn’t in the carb family. I do know that this debacle has taught me I can’t have bourbon on an empty stomach without severe physical, emotional, and social consequences.

So, what day is it?

It’s today.

Today you may have some time on your hands. Or…on the other hand (ha–see what I did there? Clever girl) you may not have a concept of time anymore so that last sentence is moot point. In any case, you have time to read this, ergo, you may have time to write a little bit and if there’s one thing you should definitely be doing these days, it’s writing.

So let’s be like frogs and hop to it…

(Yep…I said that. Shit, dude, I don’t know, I’m in a weird place, I think it comes from not wearing real pants for three weeks and giving up alcohol…)

Last week I encouraged you to journal throughout this strange, disconnected/connected world we’re in.

Example:

(Sometimes I think it would be easier to be all the way disconnected. Enough of this social teasing and lamenting not getting to hang out. (Introverts are adjusting well, except that all the people who normally leave our lairs during the day for school and work are now part…of…our…lairs…permanently. Thus the pajamas, and carbs, and sparkling water). And while we’re breaking apart some falsehoods about the benevolent humanity bandied about on-line, a pox on the trolls that come out on NextDoor to shame neighbors they no longer have to face in person for walking past them momentarily, within five feet instead of six. They’re just trying to get out of their lairs with their lair-lings before someone ends up in a shower curtain, so chill the fuck out)

Ahem…back on topic.

Assuming you are journaling, keep at it.

Every day on this wild ride is a different day and the elation and hope of one moment are just as important as the desolation and dark of the next. Write it all down.

But if you find you have some of ‘today’ left this week, I want you to write a short fiction piece and here are your topics to choose from:

1.) Write about the first year following an epidemic. If you’re a non-fiction writer, fill it with facts and likelihoods. Inspirational/psychological/self-help, write what you think the world will have learned (if anything). Dystopian/pirate/sci-fi–this is your moment to shine, baby. The point of view can be from one character, a country, or even from the perspective of a tree, street, animal…whatever paints your wagon.

2.) If you’re tired as fuck of thinking about epidemics, and fear, and empty toilet paper shelves, and the loud shouting voices on every screen you turn on… write a short story about a person who decides to spend a year of their life alone in the woods (a la Walden, if you will) What magic can be found in that solitude? What darkness? What does lonely mean to your character? Is it peaceful or is it exile? Write it from your POV, or pick a character you’re already working with…whatever slays your dragon.

I’m not talking long here, 5,000 words tops.

Happy Writing.

It’s Thursday.

Shooting The Curl

Something changed in the last month, my friends. Something kind of big. I didn’t really feel it at first, much like a solar flare or an earthquake a thousand miles away. The gentle flap of a butterfly’s wings somewhere in Malaysia. That’s how it began. Just an itch. A bit of a tickle…

You see, for the past seven or so years I’ve been on this track, inspired by the loss of a friend who left this dizzying ride far too soon. The day his light went out, I vowed to shine mine brighter; to burn out if necessary, but to always, always push towards my desires and passions.

And I succeeded in many respects. I achieved goals I had set, I went forth, even with paralyzing fear, to put myself and my work out there, to try new things, to live each day as if death might snatch me in my sleep.

And it’s a beautiful way to live. But no one mentions how hard it is to burn that intensely for so long. It’s nearly impossible to sustain in any healthy way. And I ended up sustaining it in not so healthy ways. Losing sleep, detrimental coping mechanisms, the overwrought sense of always being tired and worn out. Damage to my physical body. Damage to my mental health.

That’s when the butterfly fluttered somewhere in the distant neurons of my brain, and inspired this rising tsunami.

Living like you might die is a great way to get shit done. But I think I’m coming to grips with the idea that I might not go out like a candle extinguished, surprising and fast. That maybe, I’ll make it to 98…and if that’s the case, I have to slow my roll enough to make those fifty-some years just as beautiful and full.

Well, watch the wave come in…

I have to learn to slow the moments down. I am learning to say no to what doesn’t bring me joy. I am learning that not every day, week, month, year is the day, week, month, year that will see startling changes and massive accomplishments.

Sometimes I won’t get out of my pajamas all day. Sometimes, even after being a meticulous worker for most of my life, I won’t take the extra shifts. I may even put on a few pounds and kick my fucking scale to the curb.

Because I’m learning to save my effort for the things that really matter.

I’m committing myself to the things that fill my time with meaning.

This life-altering shift has helped me take a hard pass on things that have only been important because they mattered to the other people oscillating nearby. It’s got me skipping out on the mundane shit that doesn’t serve the purpose of my joy. Most importantly, it’s giving me permission to let go of people who don’t deserve my time or energy.

Does that mean I walk around being an asshole to everyone, shirking my commitments, and letting the laundry and bathroom scum build up to disgusting proportions? No. Because I might not die tomorrow, but if I did, I’m not going to leave a dirty mess behind me.

But does it mean if the bathroom looks fine but for a few spots on the mirror and some toothpaste in the sink I’ll put aside my ten pages of editing to clean it up?

Not any more.

Does it mean I’ll take all the jobs I can get, pro bono, because my platform ‘needs’ the solid underbelly from it?

Not any more.

My time is worthwhile, my craft is worthwhile. And if I don’t get any more of those little side jobs because they cost even the kindest, well-intentioned acquaintances then at least I will have the time that they took for me. And that’s priceless.

Does it mean I’ll drop my precious hours of writing, or family time, to take on a few extra shifts at my part-time jobs?

Not anymore.

Does it mean I’ll sign up for the time consuming races that guarantee I’ll end up with some injury, just for the ‘glory’ of bragging rights and the ‘challenge’?

Not this year.

I think I’m done with bragging. I’ve proven I can rise to challenges and I think I’m good with getting over giant accomplishments. I think I’m going to shoot the curl of this tsunami and ride it out…let it take me past all of the underlying reasons and expectations of others and do what’s best for me.

After all, I’ve only got half my life left. I spent a great deal of the first pleasing others, trying to anticipate and follow through with what they expected and needed of me.

I think it’s time I shook up some of those misperceptions.