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

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 fa├žade 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
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