Can You Juggle?

My husband is a juggler. Not a professional performer or anything, but whenever he sees three similarly sized objects, they’re bound to end up flying through the air–and eventually rolling across the floor. Many oranges and apples have lost their lives at Hubby’s hands, or lack of hands I should say.

I bought him a juggling kit a couple years ago that came with an instruction manual and balls, pins, and rings. The manual took you through each step, starting with two balls, and graduating up to the more difficult rings.

I’ve tried it a couple times, but I’m terrible. I can get two things going at once, but add in a third and everything crashes to the ground. I quickly gave up, resigned to leave the circus antics to my other half.

But the desire to learn how to juggle apparently never went away. It just morphed into something a little more my speed: writing.

My current WIP has two POVs. This is the first time I’ve written from multiple perspectives and let me tell you, it’s a little scary. When the idea initially formed, it was all from one view. One main character. Then another character spoke up, demanded her story be told too.

I was terrified when I started. I’ve read several books with multiple POVs where the voices were largely indistinguishable. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a few lines into a chapter and having to look back at the heading to see which character is narrating. I knew if I went down this road, I’d have to make the voices distinct.

Everything went fine at first. I clearly visualized both MCs, clearly heard their voices, clearly saw their story arcs. Just like with juggling objects, those first two stayed in the air fine. This isn’t so bad. Went through my head. I’m…kind of good at this. I was telling two almost completely different stories at the same time. Kept the juggling pins going with no problem.

Then they started wobbling. One character’s voice overtook the manuscript. Readers were connecting with her more than the initial main character. My agent even suggested maybe telling the story from one POV. Hers. The initial fear came tumbling back. It wasn’t the FMC’s story, it was the MMC’s! She couldn’t take it over! Could she?

I considered it. I dropped his pin. I worked up an outline and started a few chapters from just her side. Tossing one pin felt weird though. My hands felt empty. So I picked up the other one and tried juggling them independently. I’d tell the first half from the FMC’s view, and the second half from the MMC’s and….

That didn’t work either. If I was going to do this, I had to learn to juggle. See, it’s not just the MMC’s story, and it’s not just the FMC’s story. It’s both of their stories. There are two protagonists, and each carries equal weight. Each has their own goals, their own motivations, their own problems to surmount, independent of the other. Even though those stories parallel each other, and eventually merge into a common goal, they still maintain separate motivations and methods of reaching that goal.

So I started over. In a different place. Both pins simultaneously flew through the air again. The story worked. The chapters flowed. The voices separated like oil and water. Everything was great.

Until I dropped another pin. I’m close to finishing the draft, and I’m afraid the voices are blending. Especially once the two MCs collide. It was easier to keep them separate when the characters themselves were separate, easier to remember they each had a story to tell, but now it’s muddy. Complicated. I’ve added the dreaded third pin to the mix. I have to constantly remind myself that they’re each a protagonist, they each need to carry their own story.

This becomes difficult when I’m trying to make sure they’re both active characters. It would be really easy to drop that third pin, to let one character to take over now and do all the work, let the other take a back seat and coast through the end of the book. It would be easy, but it wouldn’t be a good book, and it wouldn’t be a fulfilling ride for the readers.

Juggling is hard. No one randomly picks up three items and perfectly tosses them around on their first try. It takes dedication and practice and time, and it’s so simple to say you can’t do it and walk way. Many do. I dare say there are more people in this world who can’t juggle than who can. It’s a lot like writing.

I realized I’ve been juggling for a while now. All writers juggle. With every manuscript, regardless of the number of narrators. The more elements you add to your story, plot threads, characters, settings, the more pins, or balls, or apples, you toss into the air. This is my fourth manuscript. With each one, I’ve gotten a little bit better, without really noticing it. Somewhere along the way, I graduated from balls to pins. There’s still a long way to go before I reach the rings, but I can do this.

I developed a plan of attack. Finish the draft. Print it out. Separate each character’s chapters. Read them independently. This way I can make sure the voices are consistent, and that each MC has a clear, individual, active arc.

What about you? How do you juggle your writing?

The Great Reviewomise-Part I

Back in June, I told you about the Great Readomise, mine and my husband’s agreement to read a list of books the other compiled. I decided it’s only fair that I keep you updated as to how this little experiment is going. We’ve both finished our first books, so now I present you with the Great Reviewomise.

Sarah’s Review-THE FOUNTAINHEAD, Ayn Rand.

I’d planned on tackling ATLAS SHRUGGED first, but I forgot one of the cats decided to assert his territory a few years back and our copy of ATLAS SHRUGGED was a casualty of his ensuing golden shower spree. THE FOUNTAINHEAD made it through unscathed, though, so I went for it.

Basically, it’s about an architect who wants to do his own thing instead of following the crowd. I can get down with that. I’m not much of a go-with-the-crowd kind of gal, myself. The story follows the architect, Howard Roark, as the world essentially tries to destroy him. There are other architects who are jokes and not at all talented who get all the praise while Roark’s genius creations are put down by the public. I say public, I really mean this one socialist d-bag who doesn’t want anyone to succeed at anything. He thinks individualism and unique thought and capitalism are the devil and tries to quench them at every turn in every person who exhibits any of these characteristics. Like I said, total d-bag. I spent the whole book hoping he died a painful, horrible death. He writes for a newspaper and is an articulate speaker, and the public is a giant herd of sheep, so they just go along with whatever he says.

Everything goes sour for Roark for pretty much the entire book. Out of 694 pages, good things happen in maybe ten, and I think that’s being generous. I literally flung the book across the room about half-way through. I never do that. I don’t write in margins or dog-ear corners. I revere books. I threw this one.

Rand gets you to love Roark and root for him, and then terrorizes him for 684 pages. I get giving your characters obstacles and making everything seem hopeless, I really do. I rock at putting my characters through trials. At least, I thought I did. I’ve got nothing on Ayn Rand. I spent the majority of the book just sad–hoping Roark would prevail, but knowing he wouldn’t. She had me afraid for him up until the very last sentence. Literally. I’m pretty sure George R.R. Martin when to the Ayn Rand School of How to Torture Characters.

I didn’t hate the book. I really didn’t. In fact, I think I would’ve liked it a great deal if it had been about 400 pages shorter. I skimmed most of Rand’s long, meandering dialogue and her paragraphs upon paragraphs of political diatribe. I will say, the book was well-written, parts were interesting, and I really got behind Roark and found myself invested in the character. That’s why it upset me so much when he kept failing, and why I got so angry at the end. Also, *spoiler alert* (as if you’re going to even remember it by the time you read almost 700 pages), the bad guy doesn’t even lose in the end. Not really. He definitely doesn’t get what he deserves, which is really frustrating as a reader, but I guess more realistic than if he’d gotten splattered across the pavement like I’d hoped. If there were an abridged version, I’d probably really like it.

Hubby kept telling me I should have started with ATLAS SHRUGGED first, that I would’ve liked it better. I guess we’ll see. I’m not sure what I’ll pick next, but I think I need an Ayn Rand break for a little bit. Overall, I give THE FOUNTAINHEAD 3 out of 5 stars.

I’ll pass the reins over to Hubby. (This is his first blog post ever, by the way).

Hubby’s Review- A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, Betty Smith

Hi, I’m Phillip, aka Hubby.  My first book for the great Readomise was a “Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith.  I have to say, overall I quite enjoyed the book; it does help that the main character, Francie, often reminded me of Sarah.  The book being loosely based on Smith’s life made it have a more real feeling to me.

The book follows Frances Nolan as she grows up in a very poor part of Brooklyn.  We pick her up around 8-years-old, though flash backs to her earlier years are sprinkled through. She grows up very poor and often not eating for a couple of days at a time, but through it all she is never embittered towards the world.  Smith does a great job of developing Fancie’s understanding of the world in a way that seems natural and mature, but fitting for her age throughout the story.

Francie lives with her brother Neely, 1 year her junior, her father Johnny, and her mother Katie, in a very small, and in the winter barely heated, apartment.  Her mother cleans houses while her father, Johnny, tries to work as a singing waiter.  Johnny has a problem with drinking and can’t keep steady work.  He is a dreamer of grand ideas, yet he can’t focus on the current situation, and therefore his dreams remain only that, dreams.  Even for these significant faults, he strives to be upbeat and truly loves his family.  Francie thinks the world of her father, yet she also sees his faults with minimal rosiness applied to her glasses. She sees the trouble his inability to work causes, yet this never seems to taint her opinion of him.

(Spoiler Alert) Johnny dies about 2/3s of the way through, and after this for a little while things look really bleak, Katie’s sisters try to help, but the whole family struggles.  Yet they pull though and allow Fancie and Neely to finish grade school.  At this point, Francie and Neely must work to makes ends meet.  Though only 14, Francie excels in the jobs she takes on, and soon begins earning more money than anyone in Nolan family history.  Though she really wants to attend college, she works to keep the family fed and to allow Neely to go to high school.  Ultimately, Katie remarries someone very well off which allows Francie to finally go to college.

Francie is a quiet and somewhat lonely girl, who keeps to herself, yet seems to see the world with an optimism well beyond her circumstances.  I believe this is the reason I enjoyed the book so much, other then the constant reminders of Sarah in Francie.  I found her resolve to better her situation, without allowing her current situation to be a barrier to that, refreshing.

If there is one thing I took away from this book it is what I learned from watching Francie’s father, Johnny.  He shows that love and outlook are the things that color life and they can make a minimal canvas look wonderful.  However, he also shows that without the ability to do, there ends up being so little canvas that even most beautiful painting can’t be finished.

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Give Hubby a hand, will you? I don’t know about you, but I thought his review was beautiful. Of course, I’m a little biased, but I’m pretty impressed, so go Hubby!!

We’ll be starting our next books soon, so stay tuned for Part II in the coming months.

Characters Are Basically a Snoopy Balloon

A writer friend and I were discussing characters today. She asked me how I make my characters’ voices unique. I had to stop and think about it for a while. I’ve mentioned this before, but I usually just see a character in my head and write them down. It’s not so much that I create them, rather, they find me.

Of course, that’s not a helpful answer, so I thought harder. In the post I linked above, I said I see characters as real people, but the question is, how do you get to know those people? Well, I get to know them by writing them. That’s the most unsatisfying answer ever, isn’t it? It’s the best one I’ve got though. I get an idea and write a couple chapters. I get a feel for the character.

Then I make a list of each character and their traits. What are their flaws? Their strengths? Their quirks? Do they have any scars? How did they get them? Do they chew pen caps? Are they sarcastic? Quick tempered? Easy going? I make a big list, then I make sure I write them in a manner that is consistent with those traits. Sometimes the character changes and morphs over the course of the story, or over the course of the drafts and I have to go back and reevaluate who I thought the character was. The more I write, the more I get to know them and how they would react to different situations.

I imagine having conversations with the characters. What would they say? How would they sound? How would they move as they talk? I observe people and combine different mannerisms into a single character. Then I write some more. Each draft rounds the characters out and adds more dimension, breathes life into them. It’s almost like inflating a balloon. You start with a flat piece of rubber or Mylar. As you pump air into it, it starts to take shape, until you have the finished product. Then it can float around Times Square, or wherever, knocking into buildings and creating all sorts of drama in your story like a runaway Snoopy balloon on Thanksgiving.

I read a blog once (and blast it, I can’t remember where. Yes, I just said “blast it.” That’s how I roll) that compared writing to drawing. An artist starts with a basic shape, then goes back and adds detail, then color, then more detail, until they have a final drawing. It’s the same with writing, especially with characters. I start with a short, red-headed, teenage girl, then I add her quick temper and determination. Part of the way through the draft, I realize she wears glasses. In the second draft I notice she has trust issues. In the third, I give her a scar on her right knee from a bicycle accident as a kid. Each draft adds detail and dimension.

I’m not saying I’m the best at creating good, memorable characters or anything, or even that I’m great, but when I go back and look at the first manuscript I wrote, it’s pretty plain I’m getting better. The more I write, the better I get. So that’s my advice. Keep writing, keep tweaking, keep adding that detail and listening to your characters. Listen hard enough and you’ll hear their voices. Write long enough and they’ll jump off the page.

What about you? What’s your process for writing characters? How do you inflate them?

Glorified People Watchers

The other day, Hubby and I were sitting at our favorite coffee shop. While I typed away at my my current WIP, he sat across the table working on a Sunday School lesson. Out of the blue, I said “Explain the Higgs boson particle to me.” He glanced up and launched into what the particle did and what the scientists had recently found. I peppered him with questions and he fielded almost all of them, which isn’t what I wanted.

See, I know what the Higgs boson particle is, I just hoped to ask him something that would confuse him. It didn’t work. I didn’t get a single confused look. So I tried again this morning with a different approach. While he picked out his clothes, I popped my head in the closet and said “strawberry higgenbotham Portugal sandwich.” This time I got more of a response, but not much. “Giant fish dog porpoise!” I yelled. He just looked at me like I was crazy, but he did not look very confused.

“Just look confused!” I cried.

“Why?”

“Because I need it!” I pleaded. “For my book!”

He blinked a few times and started getting dressed. Clearly he doesn’t understand how un-helpful (yeah, I’m pretty sure I made that up) he’s being. One of my characters in my WIP looks confused at a certain point. I’m not satisfied with just saying “looks confused;” I want to describe the face. Need to describe the face. But I can’t see it. And Hubby stubbornly remains expressionless. I mean, really, who can not look confused when someone yells “strawberry higgenbotham Portugal sandwich” at them at seven in the morning? Apparently my husband.

That’s when I realized what I am, what I’m sure most writers are: glorified people watchers. Sure, we write, but what we really do, is people watch. Go ahead, admit it. I know I’m not the only one sitting in public place eavesdropping on a conversation to hear how their dialogue flows, or watching the people argue at the next table to see how they move their bodies, or stalking the couple in a deep debate to note their facial expressions. I store it all away in my mental Rolodex until I need it for a certain scene.

This morning, after Hubby’s noncompliance, I cursed myself for not having a “confused” file in my brain cabinet. (Don’t worry, I will be on the prowl for confused stares now!). This isn’t the first time Hubby hasn’t responded the way I needed. I know saying “hey, look confused” doesn’t work.  It’s like asking someone “How do you say oil?” Instead of saying it naturally, their immediate response is to break down how they say it. So the results are tainted. You have to catch them off-guard. “What’s that stuff you have to replace in your car every 3,000 miles?” “What? Oy-yl?” That’s how  you do it (and you may catch yourself a confused expression to store as well).

Since the test subjects in closest proximity (i.e. Hubby) are tainted, I’m going to have to up my people watching. So if you see someone sitting on a bench in the park or at that back table in the coffee shop looking at you oddly and studying your face, don’t be alarmed. It’s probably just a writer (good news, you’ll be in a book!).  Or it’s a creeper…in which case you likely should be alarmed…

Writers, do you people watch for writing tips? *Or do you just people watch?

*In the interest of candor, I’ve always been a people watcher. It’s only recently I realized all those years of people watching have helped my writing and started doing it intentionally.

The Name Game

I have two younger siblings. When my parents were picking out their names, they looked at our family tree, they considered names they just liked, and the they took note of the popular names at the time so they could stay away from them. My brother’s name comes directly from a distant relative. Outside of my family, I’d never heard it before. The second he’s born though, boom! there were all these other kids named Cole popping up (although he’s the only Coleman I know–he just goes by Cole). Same thing with my sister. Madison and Sydney were all the rage when she was born. Then my parents named her Emily and suddenly there were Emilys all over the place.

I’ve noticed this trend in literature too. In my current WIP, I originally named one of my characters Warner, thinking it was a name I liked but hadn’t heard much. Then I found out there are several books out, like “Shatter Me” by Taherah Mafi, with a Warner. So I switched the name to Warren. Not long after the switch, I got a new story from a critique partner with a Warren. I then realized I’d named my character’s best friend Jessa, and my CP’s character’s best friend in an earlier story was Tessa. I’d already changed my character’s name because it didn’t feel right, but I think it didn’t feel right because it wasn’t my name.

It got me thinking, where do we derive our names? There’s a good chance my CP’s Tessa subconsciously spawned Jessa in my head. Possibly the same for her and Warren. But I never read the books with Warner. Like my parents, I thought I’d come up with an original name.

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of tweets from agents regarding names; asking for new and different names. Not wacky names, but they’ve seen a ton of Cassie and Bree and Ally. I noticed this myself during the Writer’s Voice contest. Trust me, when you read 200 queries in a row you start to notice the similarities, especially with character names. Where are they coming from though? Homages to friends? Names the writer just likes? Other literature or blog posts and what-not seeping into the subconscious?

Some of mine come to me already formed. With my last ms, I was trying to go to sleep and the characters appeared in my head, already named. Most of my characters require more thought, though. I make a mental note when I come across a name I like and store it away for later. Then, when I’m writing, I think about what name best fits the character’s personality. I usually research the name meanings and try to make the meaning fit the character. The hardest part is steering clear of people I know. Maybe I shouldn’t worry, but I don’t want someone seeing the name and thinking I got the character from them, especially if it’s a villain. (Caveat: of course I’m inspired by people I know, but no one person is ever entirely a character. I would hate it if I named a character Hannah and pointed out all her flaws and problems and my real friend Hannah thought it was all her, you know?) I kind of did this in my first ms. It was a fantasy story, so I took the names of family and altered them. Of course then I started feeling bad for not including everyone; then I worried about how those people would think they were being portrayed. From then on I’ve just steered clear, although the MC in my current WIP is derived from a sweet old lady I went to church with growing up–I just liked the name, though, and it was something I hadn’t seen before (although I fully expect it to start cropping up now, haha!).

I don’t want kids, so instead of dreaming of what I would name my children one day, I dream of what to name my characters. Coming up with names in stories is easier for me than naming things in real life. My husband and I pondered for days on what to name our pets. I got a new car last night and struggled with a suitable name (she’s a white Honda CR-V). Previous vehicles were Ol’ Smokey (1992 Pontiac Sunbird that burned oil like a freight train), The Gray Ghost (1989 Jeep Cherokee that was four or five different colors gray), and The Who Ride (1996 Nissan Sentra with pimp tints–it came that way, not my doing). I couldn’t figure out what to call the new one though. Eventually, I let go and pretended I was writing it in a story and bam! I had her name. Pearl. Hubby added Minnie to it since she’s a small SUV, so she’s now Minnie Pearl. (Side note, I had a cat named Minnie when I was a kid. My dad helped me come up with her name. I thought Minnie was ironic because she was a cat named after a mouse, which was part of Daddy’s thinking as well, but we had different concepts for the middle name. I wanted Mae, after my best friend; he wanted Paws. I thought he was saying she had little paws because he was a kitten, and I thought it was stupid because she was going to grow. So I held my ground and she became Minnie Mae. Only when I got older did I put Daddy’s names together and get what he was going for. Minnie Paws…if you haven’t gotten it, say it out loud, ha!).

Where do you get your character names? Are they derivative from something else you’ve read? Inspired by friends/family? Or do they have a deeper meaning?

Deus ex Character-achina?

Have you ever read a book or watched a show or movie and gotten mad at the characters for their choices?  I have.  I spent a large part of the Harry Potter series mad at Harry because of his illogical and infuriating choices.  There were times I just wanted to slap him and say “Get with it Harry! Just do the occulumency! Don’t go rushing off on your own! Wait for Dumbledore!”  But here’s the thing, they were his choices.  I get way more angry when a character acts contrary to the way they’ve been presented.  If in the sixth or seventh book Harry had suddenly just said “You know what, I’ll just sit back and think about this choice for a minute,” or if Hermione had decided they didn’t need a plan or supplies, people would have been left scratching their heads and wondering what happened.

I’ve been watching the show “Smash” on NBC and, while it started out strong, it’s waning for me.  Last night’s episode, for example, had some characters acting in ways I couldn’t picture them acting.  I found myself cursing the show writers instead of the characters for their actions, which takes me out of the story.

If you hang out in Q&A sessions enough, you’ll start hearing a lot of the same questions. “I want to write X, but…” and “can my character do Y?” Or you read a lot of work that doesn’t fit what the author is going for. The words are too big or too zany or too snarky, or not snarky enough.  The answer is always the same: what would your character do or say in that situation?  It’s part of voice but it’s more than that, it’s knowing your character.

I see characters as real people.  No, you don’t need to call the folks in white coats to lock me in a padded room.  I mean I like to get lost in a story and, just for a little while, pretend I’m reading about real people and events.  It’s an escape.  When I close the book I don’t believe there is really a school for wizardry hidden in England or anything, but I like to be able to suspend my belief for a while.  Real people generally act in manners that are in line with their character.  Sure people change and adapt, but you don’t just suddenly have a neat freak throw mud across the floor without a catalyst.  If Monica from “Friends” gave up on cooking and quit using coasters, something would be wrong.  Yet, for some reason, writers think they can get away with doing this to their characters.

It’s almost like a separate form of deus ex machina (if you aren’t familiar with the term, it’s a plot device where a particular item or person turns up at just the right time.  On a random note, at the end of the movie “Dodgeball” when the Average Joes receive the treasure chest of money, the label on the front of the chest says “deus ex machina”).  It’s something that is too contrived.  The writer sticking their hands in the story to make something work.  There is a quote by Anton Chekhov that says “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.”   Well, the converse is true too.  If someone is going to get shot in act two, you’d better make sure the gun is on the stage in act one.  In terms of characterization, for me, it’s having a character act in manner that is convenient for the writer.

I get it.  I mentioned this before, but I have a hard time writing illogical choices.  I’m a highly logical person, so it’s difficult to step back.  But the key is that I’m a logical person, my character might not be.  I can’t write it the way I want to, I have to write it the way it is.  It’s almost like changing history.  Sure, I’d love it if the white settlers hadn’t pushed the Native Americans off their land.  If I’m writing a history of that time, though, I can’t change it to how I want things to be.  I can’t substitute puppies and kittens and rainbows for lies and battles and blood.  You have to write what is.

If Annie Wilkes in “Misery” had all of a sudden started threatening Paul Sheldon with a gun and cussing like a sailor to speed the plot along, the book wouldn’t have worked.  It wouldn’t have fit with her whack-a-doodle personality.  Love or hate “Twilight” but if Bella had suddenly up and said “You know what, this is all crazy.  There are plenty of normal guys who don’t have a deep desire to kill me or turn into canines when angry.  Peace out.” people would have thrown the book across the room.

What I’m saying is, be true to your characters. And if they’re going to do something radically out of character, they’d better have a dadgum good reason for it.

Painting the Picture

How important is setting in a novel? Does it really matter where a story is set, or if the scene is expressly painted for you?

I enjoy painting.  I’m not very good at it, but I enjoy it.  Getting creative and messy with brightly colored globs of acrylic goo that I can smear in whatever patterns and shapes I desire can be wonderfully freeing.  Some people, however, prefer more constraint.  I don’t know how much the concept has taken hold in other places, but in the south a place called “Sips and Strokes” has been springing up everywhere lately.  It seems to be a popular venue for “girl’s night” (I don’t really know for sure since I don’t have a lot of “girl friends” and don’t do many girly things in the first place).  You take your beverage of choice and they provide the easels, paints, canvases and brushes.  Then they show you what to paint.  Each person’s comes out differently, but they’re all basically the same thing: a sunflower, or the Eiffel Tower, or a pot of flowers.  (They all seem to be girly things as well.  Bear in mind, I don’t really speak from experience since I’ve never been, but I have friends who love it and have reported back on the experience).  It’s basically a grown up version of paint-by-number.

Don’t get me wrong, I see the value in it (beyond “girl time” I mean).  If you feel creative, but need direction, or look at a blank canvas with no clue where to start, this sort of thing would be perfect.  It’s like the difference between a book setting the scene for you, and you making it up for yourself.  How much do you want the author to paint the picture?

Obviously there are books where setting is immensely important.  In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” for example, Harper Lee had to set the scene for the story to work.  The setting was almost another character.  Without it, the events wouldn’t have happened the same way, or mattered as much.  On the other hand, “Perks of Being a Wallflower” didn’t seem so dependent on setting.  Sure, we knew Charlie’s brother played football at Penn State, but they could have been from anywhere.  The main story could have taken place in any town.

To me, it depends on what you’re going for.  If your story is a socioeconomic commentary, it probably matters more.  If it’s a story based more on the characters and their interactions than the plot, or something more fantastical where the main character will travel to another land, I don’t think the city the character starts is that important.

I have a history of not including a concrete setting in the books I write.   I think it’s simply that the setting hasn’t mattered much.  It hasn’t been necessary to the plot.  In my head, my stories takes place in the south, because that’s what I know, but I like leaving it open to the reader to imagine it in their own city.  I like stories that don’t give it all away.

“Bridge to Terebithia” for example.  I couldn’t tell you where that story is set.  It very well might be mentioned, but it wasn’t important enough for me to remember.  And because it wasn’t important enough to remember, it could take place wherever I wanted.  Like in my backyard.  I felt closer to the story, more pulled in by the fact such amazing things could just as easily occur for me as for the characters.

Don’t misunderstand, I think stories with definitive setting are wonderful too.  “The Chronicles of Narnia” had to start in London, and C.S. Lewis did a great job describing the scene.  “Little House on the Prairie” obviously had to occur on the prairie.  “Harry Potter” had to describe the setting for the story to come alive.  Hogwarts was a character in it’s own right.

I guess this is coming to mind because I’m revising a manuscript and catching places where I’ve used southern phrases.  Like “gotten a hold of” instead of just “gotten.”  Which is all well and good if the setting were important, if I’d specifically said it took place in the south and included southern mannerisms, like Harper Lee did.  But for a more generic setting, I think the language needs to be more generic.

It comes back to painting.  I enjoy the creative release of slapping color on canvas in any pattern and combination I choose, so I like reading books where I can shape the setting how I want.  That’s one reason I write.  I’m not so big on the paint-by-numbers, grabbing me by the hand and leading me down the path mentality though.  What I’m saying is, if an author is going to set the scene for me, I want it to be beautifully and masterfully done, a Monet or Van Gogh.  Otherwise, it leaves me in setting limbo, with a half-fleshed out scene that’s set in Seattle or Maryland, just because, without giving me the real feel of Seattle or Maryland.  If it’s not important, I’d just as soon have it left out.

How do you feel?  Do you like books that leave the setting open for your imagination?  Or do you prefer to have the scene set for you?  Is it important at all?