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

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Overview Setting: Sensory Details Internal

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“The capacity to recall the sensory impacts and perceptions of one’s early years is obviously also a vital part of the talent in question: but a further dimension of recall is needed for the physical world of childhood, which, we tend to forget, is out of scale in surroundings proportioned to adults.”  Mollie Hunter

As are our story worlds out of scale to our normal everyday experiences. Not just the right word then to describe heat, or cold, or color, or temperature, but also the personal internal emotion that resonates along with them.

Crawling into a blanket-made fort for a child may hold all the anticipation of a dangerous journey, or a return to a safe haven. We need to be able to echo that experience for older readers too. The settings and description need to be in accord with both the age and the story itself.

Too often I concentrate on the description and miss the added impact of the feelings. This, I think, is what leads to a superficial treatment. I remember the first time my youngest son saw the stars at night. He was only two and did not have the vocabulary to describe what he saw. So he flung himself backwards and spread out his arms as if trying to hug the sky or hold it somehow. Pure speechless astonishment poured out of him. That night we, who did possess the word vocabulary, saw the night sky in a new way. 

This, I think, is what Mollie Hunter reminds us—to be conscious of this in our writing and remember the sense of awe that accompanies these first experiences, and not to diminish their impact.

Action Steps:

1.     For each of the five senses think of a particular experience that was positive and one that was negative.

2.     Next to each list your immediate personal words that describe your reactions.

Share: What horrible taste do you still remember from childhood?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Overview Setting: Sensory Details Perception External

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“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

As I mentioned last week 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 and not generic.

Picture book techniques impact all our senses through the story by the visual images and the sound of the language. They are crucial to their readers. By applying their principles to our manuscripts, when needed, can impact our novels too.

One method is to pause a scene or a description and examine it as if a frame in a movie or a photograph. For a moment we remove the sounds or taste or touch or whatever the key focus is and look at how else the passage influences our sensory radar.

 It would take too long to do this for every scene but whenever we feel that something is missing, or not quite what we intended, stepping back helps clear our external perception.

Action Steps:

                        Choose a movie that is age appropriate to your intended readers.

Movie Prompt

     1. Take one particular scene from the movie and put it on pause. Whether you like to write poetry or not pick out words and phrases from the visual sight that you would incorporate in a poem, with the idea that a reader may, or may not, see this ‘painting’ for themselves.

      2. Write a poem based on your selections just for the fun of it.

      3. Do the same exercise for a visual scene in your own novel.

     Share: Did you notice anything that surprised you?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Overview Setting: Sensory Details Connect

Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults

“..when sensory detail is included -readers are pulled into the scene as they recall their own associations with the experience.”  (unknown)

In our early drafts we often write everything down as it comes to us through our senses. Usually we lean on ordinary words for basic descriptions. Then we go back through to paint in feelings and scenery and ambiance. But sometimes we’re still stuck with the ordinary because it’s so familiar that other thoughts or phrases just won’t come to mind without sounding artificial or planted.

The key to using strong sensory details is to connect with the reader—which is extremely important to this age group—especially from the youngest up. So sometimes the familiar and ordinary can be the more powerful details. Or we can use them as a link to introduce a wider viewpoint and vocabulary.
 For example, when eating new foods or hearing new sounds the details help the reader recognize the character as more real as he reacts to the senses. We often see pictures of toddlers attempting to eat spaghetti and are covered in sauce. But what about a toddler who doesn’t like to get sticky? The experience is now not humorous but stressful.

Actually no sensory observation is complete until the fictional character’s emotional response is included. We need the essential, specific word choices: salty-sour-sweet-bitter. If it smells bad is it like a: rotten egg, a sewer, or low tide? However we also need to recognize that what smells bad to one character may actually be sweet to another. I discovered that one day when driving with an elderly friend. I smelt something noxious and worried it was my car. I asked if she could smell it and her reply was “isn’t it lovely?” Apparently we were smelling sulfur, which to her reminded her of where she grew up near sulfur springs.

We can’t incorporate every possible sensory detail but need to choose which reflects best for each scene, whether we are writing fiction or non-fiction. What will create the mood? Even in a fast moving fight scene we can have character feel the sweat and taste the blood on his lip.

Action Steps:

1.     One good exercise to try is to describe an object without saying what it is. Try it out at the dinner table and see if your family can guess. This helps pull in new sensory details.

2.     Note which vocabulary words made a connection.

            Share: What did you choose? What kind of response did you get?

Read deep, marcy
"The Seeker" Rachel Marks | Content Copyright Marcy Weydemuller | Site by Eagle Designs
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