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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Overview Setting: Language: Talk

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Attention to language is essential in making scenes vibrant.” Laurie Alberts

Language is a quiet tool in setting that can have impact whether used subtly or overtly. Think of a recurring family gathering for example. You’re late arriving and as you come in the hallway you can hear the voices in the next room. One by one you can identify who’s speaking by their word choices, speech patterns, and sound of their voice. If you hear someone you don’t recognize, you hesitate and try to think who it might be.

Do you smile because you recognize the words from family stories being retold or cringe because you hear a subject that means someone is getting grilled. And you might be next.

Regardless of subject matter, each person has a “tell” to their style. Does Uncle Frank have a raspy voice from years of smoking, or from a job where he needs to shout? Does he use short, fast words? What about Aunt Fiona? Does she use long words in slow motion?  Does this contrast between them invite humor, or a deep sigh knowing extreme patience is now necessary?

Or you arrive at a gathering as a newcomer. How do you recognize possible ages of the characters from the dialogue you overhear? Young children, teenagers, elderly? Slang or polished speech—and the reason why?

Whatever combination of subject, word choices, and delivery you choose influences the scene and its purpose. And as the author you should be able to recognize each character’s language style without even saying their name.

Action Steps:

1.     Take 4-6 characters. Have a conversation with minimal description. For example, one girl is chewing on her ponytail.

2.     Write out a few words for each of the characters without identifying who they are. For example: Give to each five words or phrases that only they would use. Ex. rad i cal, oh dear.

3.     Can you tell them apart? How?

Share: Which character was the most difficult to identify without saying their name?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Overview Setting: Cultural

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

Cultural observations provide a third strong category when appropriate to your overall story. Meals, holidays, dress, attitudes and language can highlight themes and communication, interactions and confusion, and build bridges of understanding.

Many years ago an associate and I decided to make our weekly lunch meetings an adventure by trying out a different ethnic restaurant each week. We took turns choosing and we focused on local small family run establishments. One time we tried a place that served buffet style. Unfortunately their words for each dish were in their own language, and the dishes were such that they were almost impossible to identify. And there was no one to translate. We started out with tiny tablespoons of several options and then, when we thought we had some identification we went back for a regular serving.

The food was delicious and it became one of our favorite spots.

Sharing stories across cultures helps to strengthen empathy and expand our horizons.

Reading and studying stories across cultures also help develop solid foundations for historical settings and characters as well. Remember too that each culture has socio-economic diversity as well that needs to be recognized, and also regional and geographic diversity.

Another way to incorporate culture honestly is to follow a particular theme. “what have you lost?” by Naomi Shihab Nye is a compilation of YA poems written about losses. It is a wonderful introduction to different voices across cultures and ages that all begin with a common thread.

Action Steps:

1.     Character. Take a teen-ager from one ethnic background and send her to dinner at a friend’s of a different ethnic background for a holiday celebration.

2.     Describe everything in detail. Overwrite specifics.

3.     Which concepts can be applied to your story?

Share: Which parts were the most fun? Which were difficult?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Overview Setting: Interior

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

A second strong category to influence your setting with authenticity is the Interior. Even when your interior details are backdrop only, they can be used to boost your main atmosphere in your settings. The set-up can be used to affect different characters as well.

Is the location spacious or crowded? Is it a private room or public? How could that impact your character if she is an introvert or an extravert? Or possibly create a stress for a character short on time that has to navigate a busy grocery store or post-office?

What does the floor plan look like and how will that affect your characters’ actions? Is she facing a long flight of stairs, or a crisscross of corridors in a hospital?

How does the color of walls or the lighting affect moods? Are they dull or bright? Could something in the room be a silent symbol? One author I know discovered at the end of her first draft that an ordinary flower plant had become a symbol for her heroine’s story. It only showed up a few times—at the beginning as part of the décor, in the middle with leaves falling, a little later when she watered it while doing chores, and at the epilogue when it fully bloomed again.

In a more intense situation an interior setting can take on a heavier weight as in a normal school bus that has been hijacked and buried. Now a normally spacious space has become claustrophobic.

After a first draft take a close look at all your physical settings and see where a small detail here or there can enhance one of your story threads.
Action Steps:

1.     Choose one room that has an emotional attachment to your character and draw a rough outline of it re space. Make a few copies.

2.     In one copy make the contents few and in another make it a very cluttered room.

3.     Have one version be light colors and another dark.

4.     Now right a brief scene where your character goes into that room emotionally distraught.

Share: How did she emotionally deal with her situation in relationship to the atmosphere of that room?

Read deep, marcy

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Invisible Light: Novella Book Launch

Meet Ashia, a teenager uprooted from her home and family battles against depression and hopelessness to find God’s light.

When seventeen-year-old Ashia abruptly moves to San Francisco five months before her graduation, she is propelled into isolation both at home, and school, where she is seen as an intruder. When she uncovers a web of deceit exposing a counterfeit principal manipulating the school system for personal gain, her emotional darkness begins to close around her. Ashia attempts to battle depression and hopelessness. She searches for the Lord’s light and finds refuge in her poetry.

Book Two in the White Stone Series: Hope, Faith, Heart

Six young women face life transitions that create tense relationships and struggles of faith. Will they have the courage to challenge their personal fears and experience new beginnings that stretch their hearts into hope?

Available now on Amazon: Marcy Weydemuller

A special thanks to artist Katelyn Catasnga for her powerful painting. You can find her work online at and

And to Indie mentor Kitty Bucholtz. Learn more about her classes and her upcoming podcast Write Now Workshop, at

                                                   Hope you enjoy the series

                                                                Read Deep


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Overview Setting: Landscape

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

Setting is either used as a backdrop and almost invisible, or as a character itself. For example, the Hobbit’s landscape includes a man versus nature conflict. Then as we discussed in Moon Over Tennessee, setting can confirm a genre such as an Historical: establishes place, historical framework, season, time of day, moods, atmosphere.

Again, when the reader is able to visualize it that makes it authentic. The common place becomes memorable as in the Borrowers. The setting needs to be authentic whether real or imaginary.

Three main categories help to establish authenticity. First is Landscape: which includes climate, weather, topography, land-marks, amount of daylight.

Once you’ve set the setting you don’t need to repeat every time. You add touches throughout to keep the focus or can repeat an important part often if it’s going to matter. For example if a tapestry on wall hides the clues to a mystery, then it should be seen often.

To brainstorm some ways to choose your basic setting here’s part one of an exercise I sometimes give my workshop students. Write a brief few sentences about a character hanging laundry on an outside line.

Seems pretty ordinary—perhaps even dull. At the moment it is only a beginning point of a possible reality, giving perhaps character and place, but not yet a voice; and perhaps curiosity, but not yet an authentic emotional connection.

However, I have yet to have any sentence even come close to matching another as each writer chooses the unique aspects that interest them and apply to their story world.

The character: boy, girl, man, woman, human or alien—what kind? Are they bored or anxious? Normal chore or forced labor?

Hangs laundry: how?—By old-fashioned string and clothes pegs, or by magic, or electronically? Is it a difficult chore or easy?

Outside line: where?—Isolated mountaintop, crowded slum, spaceship balcony, or cookie-cutter suburb? Is it dark outside or light? Windy or not?

The chosen detail for each key focus brings up several shapes to a simple sentence. By knowing a geographic habitat and adjusting it to reflect our character’s story, we can take common territory and transform it into new ground—even if it’s the familiar chain store on the corner.

Action Steps:

1.     Do a sentence for each of the characters listed.

2.     Which details for each did you like best.

3.     Combine all your favorite choices into one sentence structure.

Share: What is your sentence?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Overview Setting: Ground Breaking

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“The strongest writers have always been the ones with a well-defined sense of place……Or a knowing of landscape, as something alive with personality, breathing.” Joy Harjo

Setting grounds a story in place, in time, and in perspective. The reader has an immediate center of expectation, whether or not the writer intends to change it. Are we in a jungle, or on a ship? Are we on an immigrant ship in the 1880’s, or are we on a deluxe cruise ship a century later? To place a large swimming pool on center deck would be considered ludicrous for the immigrant ship, unless now the immigrants are space-bound to another galaxy. Ship denotes a voyage, but the details of the setting will influence what kind of experience our characters are living through.

Either we begin from the inside out by imagining the location of our setting visually and finding the right pieces to fit, or begin from a natural habitat and focus on the specifics that define the unique atmosphere and story questions that impact the characters.

One way to achieve this perspective is to construct a place—“real or invented”—rather than describe it. Choosing specific details enables us to impress the landscape on readers and connect them to the meaning of our world. And to the age of your readers. Ages 4 and up can relate to the space ship in Wall-E. The spaceship to Avatar requires an YA audience and up to fully identify the nuances of its atmosphere.

There is such a variety of possibilities that we can easily get lost in the world-building details and neglect the emotional connections. Or the details can drown out the story unless we focus the view.

Some Setting Functions:
            Clarifies conflict: Charlotte’s Web, Witch of Blackbird Pond
Antagonist: Incredible Journey, Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins
            Illuminates Character: Anne Frank
            Mood: Bewoulf
            Symbol: Must be repeated throughout the story—Listening Silence

Action Steps:

1.     For the age category of your audience identify some books that match the above categories.

2.     Look over the books you read the most for your proposed age group. Do one of the above categories show up multiple times?

Share: What setting habitats draw your interest.

                                               Read deep, marcy

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Overview Setting: Sensory Details Build Vocabulary

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
                                                                                                            Mark Twain

Begin a journal for word ideas to build a sensory vocabulary based on connecting. Here are a few suggestions to get started.

Color Exercise

Choose any color. Do a five to ten minute free write on anything that comes to mind for that color whether cliché or not. Remember to include phrases that are already used in common language like yellowbelly or red-eye.

Now look back at your own list. Which references are literal and which are figurative? What categories can you place your connections in? What areas are missing? Can you add to them?

Sensory Vocabulary      

Do the same as above but use a different sense to develop a list. In a workshop I once took with author Ethel Herr, she suggested choosing a different sense per day and paying close attention to just it. So on Monday notice everything you smell. On Tuesday touch, Wednesday taste, Thursday hear, Friday see.

Then next to each word on each list expand. Did something smell rotten? As I shared earlier was it rotten like an egg, a sewer, or a dead fish? What distinguishes each ‘rotten’ smell?

Repeat for any words that you want to develop more depth.

Action Steps:

1.     From each sense category take one of your own experience examples and then assume that a person does not have the ability to identify with that sense, either always or for that particular situation. For example, a cave might be so dark it is impossible to see without light, or a person might be blind.

2.     Make a list of ways for your character to experience the same emotional response you had but through different types of connections.

Share: Which was the most difficult category to find a substitute connection for?

Read deep, marcy

"The Seeker" Rachel Marks | Content Copyright Marcy Weydemuller | Site by Eagle Designs
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