Posts Tagged ‘setting’


Videos or Books?

September 27, 2014

Each semester, I take a poll and ask my students, “Who reads?” Maybe one will raise their hand. Although I know college kids are busy, this saddens me. It’s difficult to improve writing, if reading’s not involved. So, I assign plenty of essays, hopefully interesting ones, and we write about them.

But I also show short clips from movies, videos, and many YouTube recording.

Although not every writing teacher would approve of the tactic, I think video plays an important role in the classroom. Not only does film capture the attention of the twenty-something set, but clips can be analyzed like a book.

How does a setting affect the mood of a movie? What’s the purpose? The inciting incident? How has the character grown? What are the details that remain with you once the film is over? Watching Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men or the Shining is an excellent example of voice and character.

Books are great. In my opinion, they can’t be beat. But movies and film can be useful tools when teaching students to write. Next time you hit the big screen, watch for the climax. See if you can plot the film like you would a book. The exercise will improve your own writing.


An Invitation

February 5, 2014

When I  teach my English comp class, I ask my students to create an invitation for an event of their choosing. It must include a time, a location, the purpose for the party, and who will be attending. Invitations have included aliens, families, foreign dignitaries, and birthday bashes in Bermuda. It’s always a fun start to a semester, but the reason I do it is to help them remember the five elements to writing. An essay or a first chapter must include the five w’s: who, what, where, when and why.

Who? At a minimum the main character must be introduced, or if writing an essay, the reader needs to know who’s involved.

Where? Setting is crucial.

When? Is it a current story or historical? Maybe it’s dystopian. If writing an essay, dates can be critical.

What/Why? These two questions are the crux of the essay and the piece of fiction. What does the main character want or need and why is it so important to them? If writing an essay the reader must know what’s at stake.

Editing can be made  easier by thinking of an invitation to remember the needed elements.

Do you have your 5 w’s in your own work?


Lovin’ Lamar

May 5, 2013

Lots of writers choose picturesque settings for their novels. Tropical beaches, quaint French villages, or exciting cities set the stage so that authors can take trips, gathering research.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Rather than choosing say, Tahiti, I set my latest manuscript in Lamar, Colorado: home of a high school nicknamed ‘the savages’ as well as the Cow Palace hotel, a trucker’s paradise. Truth, not fiction.

Like any diligent writer, I did my research on-line, but decided I needed to take the trek and live it first-hand. While visiting Eastern Colorado, I stayed at the Cow Palace for one night, while doing research. While it wasn’t the Bahamas, they did have a kidney-shaped pool complete with plastic palm trees. Woot! Their breakfast special consisted of six pieces of sausage, six pieces of bacon, two eggs, and two biscuits and gravy. I didn’t starve. When I checked in, I asked for a quiet room on the second floor of the motel. A scruffy eighteen-year-old stared at me as if I’d arrived from OZ. For a minute, I thought he might say it was haunted. Instead, he told me they didn’t put people on the second floor because there was no elevator and that a set of stairs required exercise. Even if I’d been writing a book about obesity, I don’t think I would have thought of that nugget. Truth is odder than fiction.

Lamar was everything I remembered from a brief encounter years ago. It did not disappoint. And while I am slightly sorry I didn’t choose a tropical island to set my story, Lamar offered rich ambiance.  Sometimes a story set in a unique place can offer an abundance of interesting characters and new sensory awareness. What?  Tahiti doesn’t smell like chlorine and manure? Nope. You can only find that, in Lamar.