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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Strategy # 6 Homespun Locale: Vacation Worksheet

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

Family Vacation Journal Worksheet

Another way to approach local flavor is to use your own personal vacations as a starting point. Then from that base material you can adjust fictionally up and down the emotional scale from humor to terror depending on your genre.

Try it out first with a short weekend trip you’ve taken recently.


1.     Make a list of all the events you remember that happened. (ex. flat tire two hours before reaching destination)

2.     a. Make a list of all the people there: family, friends, and strangers.

b. Next to each name put what was the distinguishing characteristic of that person at that time. (ex. lady in snack shack—had wild hair) (brother—told a new joke every morning)

3.     Describe the setting: place, weather, and smells.

4.     Was there then or afterwards an image or repeated phrase that became a code for that vacation? (ex. Remember the phone?)     

5.     What is your specific emotional connection that makes it your……….?

6.     Write out a rough draft of that vacation. Overwrite the sensory details. Then revise once again choosing the main focus.

  For example: “Every time I smell jasmine I remember…

Add taste, hear, touch, and see.

Share: What one incident distinguished your trip?
Read deep, marcy

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Reads 2014

Looking for some fun reading breaks through the holidays? Here’s what I’ve been reading in an assortment of short stories and novellas by both new and multi published authors. Choose from a variety of genres: light hearted to heavy drama, family G rated and a few PG with subject and language. Choose from historical, romance, humor, contemporary, and super heroes. Enjoy!

Where Treetops Glisten, three novellas about the Turner family set in Lafayette, Indiana during the Second World War. Faith, drama, romance, and intrigue. By Cara Putman, Sarah Sundin, and Tricia Goyer.

Lawrence’s Gift, from the Christmases Past short story series. Challis, Idaho 1941 and the large Baxter family prepares to gather for the holidays as the news of Pearl Harbor breaks out. Drama, conflict, tension, and hearts filled with love. By Anne Baxter Campbell.

A Rare Snow, historical Episode 6 from the Roaring Redwoods short story series. A look at the 1920’s “where the Pacific Ocean meets the Redwoods, gangsters meet immigrants, loggers meet movie stars—and the lines between right and wrong are obscured by the trees.” This has grittier content and language based on real life characters and situations. This episode covers Christmas Eve through NewYear's Eve 1927. By Leo Colson

Kathi Macias’ 12 Days of Christmas, assorted contemporary and historical with drama, families, faith, laughter, and commitment. By authors Kathi Macias, Kathy Bruins, Jessica Ferguson, Christine Lindsay, Marcia Lee Laycock, Marcy Weydemuller, Ruth L. Snyder, Sheila Seiler Lagrand, Peggy Blann Phifer, Anne Baxter Campbell, Mishael Austin Witty, and Jeanette Hanscome

The Best Blue Christmas, contemporary short story reminding us that for some Christmas brings up painful family memories. Yet hope beckons amid sorrow, laughter and fellowship. By Tracy Krauss

A Very Merry Superhero Wedding, a prequel contemporary novella to the Adventures of Lewis and Clark series, an anthology of Romantic Short Stories. Tension, action, humor and of course, romance. This novella releases on Christmas Eve. By Kitty Bucholtz

Share: What Christmas story are you reading this year?

                                              Read deep, marcy

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Strategy # 6 Homespun Locale: Connect

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

Travel Writing

Whether you do your research from the armchair comfort of your home or are able to venture into onsite research, consider doing it as if you are writing a travel piece. (You might consider using portions for blog spots later as well.) Think of what a tourist might want to know. Immediately you have a built in interest connection.  For example, in addition to their feature stories, the magazine Via always has at least four smaller columns that include places to eat, must see locations, bits of history, and often the unexpected. Their readers expect to see these categories.

Look for a local magazine within the geographic habitat area you’re interested in developing.  And/or go online and check for popular columnists. Merrie Destefano shared in an interview that she followed a few New Orleans blogs when she began researching her novel to catch the ‘voice’ of the city. San Francisco had columnist Herb Caen for decades. He became know nationally as the voice of the city. If anyone needs to know what the local population thought important thirty years ago, reading his archived columns would give a good representation.

Choose a city, type in the name and columnists. Then pick the largest paper first and scroll through the column categories. Then go back and pick one of the smaller papers. Compare subject choices.

If you are using a place that is local and familiar, take a day trip from another perspective. If you usually go with friends or family—go alone. Or reverse—if you usually visit some place alone next time travel with a friend or two who have never been there before and see it through their eyes.

Here’s an exercise on finding a travel idea close to home from L. Peat O’Neil in his book Travel Writing.

“Here are the kinds of questions to ask yourself: Is there a nearby college campus with historical buildings? Does the community have a park featuring a nature center or wildlife preserve? Have any famous people lived in the area—writers, artists, performers, political notables? Are their former homes open to visitors? Perhaps there is a nearby shopping district or local crafts or antiques. What is the history of that statue in front of the civic center? Why are all the Italian restaurants in a certain neighborhood? What is it about the river that attracts all the kayakers in spring? Why is that art gallery named after certain family?”

Share: What is the first thing you look for when you visit any new locale? My children were amazed that I would always spot the bookstores immediately. : )

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Strategy # 6 Homespun Locale: Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

Case Study: Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles by Merrie Destefano

Take a look at this brief excerpt from a local graveyard in New Orleans, Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles, by Merrie Destefano, and apply the sensory questions as before that we did in the last session: Strategy # 5 Honest Sensory Keys

“Dead leaves rustled and tumbled through a narrow courtyard. She was gone.
“Hey,yeah! Angelique. Where are you?” Stone met stone, shadows changed from gray to purple to black.

           "Babysitting 101: Never turn your back on a Newbie. Especially on Day One."

            "There were no sounds except my own footsteps as I stumbled through uncharted darkness; my own heartbeat, as it chugged along like a train on rickety tracks. I began to jog between temple-tombs, moved through what looked like a black-and-white-vampire movie set.”

Note: color and decay.

These three excerpts also contain a measure of suspense and yet the mood, the tone and the sensory details give this story a personal voice and authenticity very distinct from the two previous historical excerpts. However, the difference is not because this is in a different genre. The resonance works because the senses work in sync with your protagonist.

Share: Which detail caught your attention?

Read deep, marcy

Find out more information about Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles and more stories at Merrie’s website:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Strategy # 6 Homespun Locale

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

“You present your story in terms of things that can be verified by sensory perception. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch—these are the common denominators of human experience; these are the evidence that men believe.” Dwight V. Swain

 Introduction Local Influence

No sensory observation is considered complete until the fictional character’s emotional response is included. When eating new foods, or hearing new sounds, the concrete details help the reader recognize the character as more real as he reacts to the senses. Just as word choices need to be specific, so do the sensory details need to be definitive, externally as images and internally as personal reactions.

What are the telltale signs that we’ve moved from one neighborhood to another? What makes the restaurant on one street so much better than the next? We also want to make these sensory observations unique.

When we examine the local flavor of a setting we discover a treasure trove of details in attitude and speech, special foods, ceremonial events, public safety, law enforcement and city hall meetings.

Merrie Destefano set her richly layered urban fantasy in New Orleans. Here’s the first question in her discussion guide.  As you think of your ‘local’ setting consider how you would want readers to answer this question for you. What influence would you want to filter down?

“Discussion Questions:

1. Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles is set in New Orleans, a city rich in culture and cuisine. It’s the historic birthplace of jazz, a center known for voodoo and Mardi Gras, and it’s also a city that suffered greatly as a result of Hurricane Katrina. How did the setting of New Orleans add to this story? How would you describe the voice in which the author tells this tale? What does it add to the overall effect of the book? Discuss.”  

Share: What style voice will you choose for your story?

Read deep, marcy

Stop by and visit Merrie's website at for a full discussion guide and more.   

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Strategy # 5 Honest Sensory Keys: Touch

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

“Think of the eerie nature of these kinds of touch: the feel of a hand on the back of a neck; the slippery quality of blood on skin; the light pressure of breath in a person’s ear.” Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Suspense Exercise: Touch

Writing Exercise

1.     Do you remember playing a game where you put your hands into a bag and guessed what was inside? In whatever setting your character is in, past, present or future, prepare a guessing bag for them and put in common ingredients from their place for them to feel. Make a list of their reactions.

2.     Use that memory to help you character through a difficult situation, like a need to escape either emotionally, or literally tied up with strong ropes.

Movie Exercise

1.     Choose one brightly lit scene from a favorite movie in your genre and one darker setting.

2.     For each scene go through the sensory categories in this strategy and make a list of everything you notice.

3.     Pick out the ones that seem to best highlight each scene? Why

Here’s one example from the movie Hugo. In the scene when Hugo follows George Melies home the night is dark, cold, and damp. The whole walk reflects the shadows, the sadness, and the uncertainty ahead of him. Then the street with funery figures highlight the magnitude of the grief that both these characters are carrying and become an external image in cold stone.

Share: What most unsettling sensation did your character receive in the bag?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Strategy # 5 Honest Sensory Keys: Decay

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

“In the physical world, a house or boat or car in a state of decay will inevitably create suspense. Rotting wood, a half-submerged car in a lake, or a trail of faded old clothing will cause the reader to feel concerned.” Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Suspense Example: Decay

Second Example From A Memory Between Us by Sarah Sundin

This next historical novel includes war as well, but a century later, and the focus in this summary excerpt is the emotional tension of a growing romance. Look how weather, decay, color, and touch are used to build authenticity here.

Innovative setting with sensory details has the potential to provide a powerful impact and lingering effect whether its presence is subtle or panoramic. In A Memory Between Us, Sarah Sundin leans more towards this scene’s setting as a backdrop and subtle presence, but she does it in a way as to highlight key story components, sometimes all at once.

Excerpt: Chapter 11

Starting at page 96 as they stroll “down the street and through the imposing Norman Gate Tower. Jack pointed out the slits in the thick stone walls.” They walk into a circular garden where a man plays a violin to a group of children. Jack lays down his jacket so Ruth doesn’t snag her stockings on the black, white, and gray stones protruding from the mortar. And then too there’s the watch—time moving forward.

The setting is steeped in history—part of a ruined abbey. And right now that is how Ruth views her own life, as in ruins. She struggles between emotions that are black, white, and gray as she finds herself drawn to Jack, and at the same time pushes him away. It’s interesting that Ruth considers it stupid that the ancient building were torn down in the Reformation. She has thick emotional walls surrounding her but there a few slits opening and Jack is coming through them. Maybe she also has a premonition, or fear, that her wall will be smashed too. But often our walls have to come down so healing can take place. Which begins a few paragraphs on as they prepare to dance and Ruth finds herself sobbing in his arms.

            “Now the tears flowed in an unrelenting stream. Folded in Jack’s arms, she could be weak, she could grieve, she could be nurtured.” (And can’t you just hear the violin still playing.)

She feels safe, she weakens, he kisses her, she melts, and then all the past ugliness rises up to poison the moment. In her sorrow and hurt she then lashes out at Jack, and steps back into the ruins of her heart. 

Note the touch details here: the feel of the jacket, the stones, the watch, her feet on the ground as they dance, Jack’s arms, the tears on her cheeks.

Excerpt: Chapter 20

            “‘Here we are. House of Parliament. Wow. Look at the bomb damage.’ The rubble had been cleared long ago, but boards still covered holes in the wall.”

            They walked further. “Ruth focused on the side of an ancient building of pale gray stone with a regal façade rising to her right. Westminster Abbey, of course. Every window was boarded up. ‘I heard they removed the stained glass to storage during the Blitz.’” She stood imaging the Abbey with its stained glass.
They walk and Ruth shares the conflict over money. Jack’s anger shows at her aunt’s greediness, which is seen through the amount of money she demands from Ruth. Ruth flashes back into the old poverty set up against the opulence of Buckingham Palace and her fears for her siblings. She grasps the bars, prison bars. 

            “Behind those walls people still got sick and died and hurt each other. But behind those walls people never went to bed hungry, never watched their loved ones work themselves to death, never turned to immoral means in order to eat.”

Her shame keeps rising within her, the beauty of the day and friendship seeping away and then she sees Eddie Reynolds and runs into the park in a panic, hyperventilating.

“She nodded, ashamed of her behavior and still fighting the terror that her secret could have been revealed to destroy all she’d worked for, sacrificed for, and sinned for.”

Note: details of decay and how they matched Ruth’s feelings.

Both these sensory settings became a mirror for Ruth’s conflicts, gave characterization details for Ruth, and Jack, set the atmosphere both internally and externally, provided the right mood and music, and symbolism, and kept the narrative moving forward.

Share: How could you use decay in your scene?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Strategy # 5 Honest Sensory Keys: Color and Light

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

“Dark colors lend themselves to dark emotions.” Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Often we relegate suspense to mysteries, thrillers, and adventure where in fact any genre can benefit from threads of suspense, especially when emotional or spiritual struggles are intertwined in the narrative action.

Let’s take a look at how honest sensory keys, with different details, can contribute to authenticity in three very different novels: two historical (this Strategy #5) and one Science-fiction mystery next month. (Strategy #6)

Suspense Example: Color and Light

First Example from Moon over Tennessee by Craig-Christ Evans

Here we return to the opening Strategy excerpt @ Strategy # 1 Habitat Highways: An Ordinary Day. Take out your first notes and see if your first impressions continue to hold with the additional section?

Remember this appears to start as an ordinary day:

            “From the barn I see my mother on the back porch washing beans,
            my little sister with her dolls there on the stoop, my father
            leading horses from the field.

            Morning sun crawls up, a yellow dog just waking,
            stretching one leg and another, then
            its wide-mouthed fiery yawn.  I rub my eyes and push
            my hand behind a plank, grope until my fingers
            close around the edges of a wooden box. Crouched
            He stands inside the door, his hat pulled down, a bridle
            Hanging loosely in his hands. Behind him, sunlight
            Makes shadows dance across the dusty floor.”

What kind of scene are you seeing? What emotions do you apply to this reading? Pick out specific words that you think contribute the most emotional weight.
            “It’s not because my daddy thinks
            the South should fight against the North,
            but we’ve been so long a piece of Tennessee
            today we’re leaving for the war.”
From Moon Over Tennessee, A Boy’s Civil War Journal by Craig Crist-Evans.
How much does this sparse, yet detailed setting affect character and theme? Based on these few verses, what do you expect to happen?

As an historical setting this passage establishes place, historical framework, season, time of day, moods, and atmosphere. Its authenticity allows us to fully participate.

Look at all the touch categories and how their familiarity builds drama; washing beans, dolls, leading the horses, (both the touch of the reins and their breath on hands) rub eyes, touch plank, grope, and loose bridle.

What details show the weather and the use of color? Notice there is no decay and yet the potential for decay is hinted at. How?

Share: Which detail do you think had the strongest emotional impact? Why?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Strategy # 5 Honest Sensory Keys

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

Introduction Honest Sensory Keys

The senses are as core a scene element as you can get, and are very important in writing fiction because they transform flat words on a page into three-dimensional, realistic scenes. Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Sensory Influence

As we build our ground territory look for the key sensory influences of each particular area. The senses permeate every situation. So it’s important to note which sensory details will most effectively add to the scene’s purpose: allusion, echo, theme, atmosphere, tone, description, setting, characterization, and plot threads.

What does the air smell like when you open the door in the morning, in the afternoon or in the evening?

Look for colors other than the flowers and trees. When it rains is the mud black, brown, or red? What colors stay through a drought? When you wade into the lake do your toes squish into a mushy bottom, or do you gingerly tiptoe over sharp rocks? How quickly do you dry after a sudden summer storm? Is it safe to light a campfire?

Mood, setting, and sensory details help establish their impact. But they also need to be genuine. There is no room for exaggeration unless the core of the narrative falls into that category. The same applies for no longwinded purple prose. The key is precise choices within the real setting that highlight without taking center stage.

Another consideration is what kind of scene is it? The sensory influence can either be a mirror image of the key content of your scene or can highlight the incongruity. Is your scene dramatic or reflective? How might that affect the sunlight streaming into a room?

For this strategy sequence we’ll examine some story excerpts through the lens of a suspense scene using some suggestions from Jordan E. Rosenfeld’s, Make A Scene, to build authenticity.

For example: Weather: “Using dramatic weather, such as storms, blizzards, or harsh beating sun, is a great way to create suspense if it imperils your character.”

Share: What suspenseful weather scene do you most remember from a novel or a movie? I remember the sinking of the Albatross in the movie White Squall, based on a true story.

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Strategy # 4 Hungry Territory: Visible Threat by Janice Cantore

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

Visible Threat: Case Study

Brinna sighed. “I went into the water accidently, nothing heroic. Then I blacked out and next thing I remember I was in an ambulance.”
Brinna shook her head and explained. “When I saw the girl, adrenaline took over. I tried to get close enough to the edge and grab her and fell in. It was stupid.
“Hear, hear.” Maggie held up her soda cup up. “She and Rick were connected by a leash. When Brinna lost her balance, so did Rick.  They both went into the water, but he hit the rocks. Matt and Jeff grabbed him; then all of a sudden there were firemen everywhere. Their timing was impeccable.”

The above passage gives a version of the characters impression of the events that left Long Beach Officer Brinna Caruso with a broken wrist, and a fellow officer facing dangerous surgery due to a fractured shoulder and broken back.

Earlier the readers saw that five police officers acted capably and with courage, but not with any degree of irresponsibility. They all knew the dangers of the river and took precaution. All Brinna planned to do was kneel on the water’s edge in the hopes the drowning girl was swept close enough. Rick also stood as close to the water’s edge as was safely possible. Then they added the extra safety precaution of the leash.

It’s a great example of how the combination of a known natural territory and experienced preparation can still upend a situation into high conflict and high stress.  Now a life is on the line as well as a solid partnership, and relationships both personally and professionally.

Exercise: Make a short list of normal actions your character does in their daily job. Then next to each one choose how an accident could be directly related to that normal activity.

Share: Think of a possible example for your character where a slight fall could have dire consequences based on their territory.

Read deep, marcy

For more information on Janice Cantore's intriguing mysteries check out her site at:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Strategy # 4 Hungry Territory: A Walk Analogy

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

Start your character’s journey, emotional and literal, with his immediate environment. Have him see it close up. Then pick one or two images to be representative of that territory.

Writing Exercise

1.    Take a walk down a street in your childhood. Write down what you see, hear, remember. Write quickly a free write, broadly spaced. (about ten minutes)

2.    Now go back through your notes and add specifics: sound, taste, and smell. For example, not just a swing on the front porch or in a yard, but what kind of swing. Metal-wooden-plastic/size/sounds it makes.

3.    Choose one aspect of your walk—a particular setting or character or animal and highlight either by enhanced detail, or exaggeration. Draw an analogy. For example:
“And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow.” Sandra Cisneros.

 Did some additional thoughts, feelings insights come with each layer?

4.    Take the scene you used for your painting, and now have your character walk through that ‘street’, even if the street is a pathway through a plain or a forest, adding specific sounds, tastes, smells but using the emotional response you experienced on your own memory walk.

Share: How does that change from your original perspective, or does it?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Strategy # 4 Hungry Territory: Journey

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

Territory as Journey

In addition to the close-up possibilities we also need to step back and take an overview. Think in terms of a lens camera on zoom. We go from the tight shot to the distance shot.

A chef stands back a little to look at his masterpiece entrée. A quilter needs to move far back in order to see the whole when completed. One way to take a different angle view of territory can be as a journey regardless of distance.

We can turn to the rich history found in myths and their geography, which can be mined for today’s stories because their emotional truths still apply despite the change in civilizations. In his book, Realms of Gold, Leland Ryken comments on myth’s enduring qualities in one famous journey.

“During his wanderings, Odysseus encounters approximately what anyone taking a journey away from home would encounter today: violence, sexual temptation, drugs (the island of the lotus eaters), the occult, physical danger, death, lost luggage, homesickness, getting lost, culture shock (for example, the overnight in the Cyclops cave and the spectacle of Odysseus’ seeing his fellow sailors transformed into animals as he arrive at Circe’s house), hospitality, the impulse to give up, inadequate transportation, a lost passport (Odysseus arrives stark naked and without identity at Phaiacia), and personal conflict with fellow travelers.”

Sometimes we go on a journey and experience the unexpected. It can happen through our travel plans where nothing is as it should be, or was promised, or is even there anymore. It can happen in familiar territory like a walk around the block where suddenly we see an incident that impacts our lives and gives us an epiphany. We start off in one direction but when we come to the end we find we are different. The journey has changed us within. So regardless of genre, we almost have an internal radar to all journey stories, whether of quest or immigration or exile or discovery or mystery, and regardless of distance.

Share: What is your favorite childhood story that involved a journey? 

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Strategy # 4 Hungry Territory: Danger

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

Continue to ask these questions of each key territory spot you choose.

2.  Is it man-made?

What welcome animals live within—how much care do they need—is the person elderly and in danger of tripping over a skittish cat? Unwelcome: mice—roof rats—snakes under the foundation—spiders. Looking for a way to drive your comfortable heroine in her lovely home into high stress? Have her return from vacation and find her home literally jumping with fleas.  (True story)

 3. What is the history behind it?

Don’t just examine the historical data but the animal as well. Perhaps a species has been driven out of their natural habitat. And then there is a severe drought. Do they then become a danger or are the people even more of a danger to them. Is the town on a migration pathway? Do the people co-exist with the bi-yearly invasion or it is a mini war zone?

Or they know how to take advantage when the opportunity shows itself. Here’s a photo that showed up on facebook one day. Talk about territory and landmark together!

“After all the terrible rain in England recently, a group of swans swim down flooded walkways in Worcester yesterday..”

 4. Is it considered to be holy ground? Why?
 5.  If so, is it open to everyone to visit or considered forbidden?

Holy ground will need to be clearly defined for your world. In medieval times a person could seek sanctuary in a church or monastery. However their life was forfeit if they left the grounds, so, in a way, they chose a form of prison.

Holy ground may or may not include cemeteries. A wildlife reservation may be considered a type of holy ground sanctuary to preserve nature. And what happens if valuable minerals or oil or gold is found underneath. The movie Avatar explores this entire theme across space, species and culture.

Share: What did you uncover or realize could become a potential conflict in one of these categories?

Read deep, marcy

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