How well do your favorite authors use local knowledge to give their stories depth and authenticity? What would you use in a story about your hometown?
We just spent a week on Long Island at a birthday celebration for a friend’s mother. It’s a beautiful place, and we had a fantastic time, but thanks to our friends we also learned a thing or two and avoided some obvious pitfalls.
It got me thinking about how many opportunities there must be for a writer to use setting to distinguish locals from outsiders, and to create location-specific plot points or conflicts.
Based on last week’s discussions, here are some tells that marked us out as Long Island rookies.
Our friends chartered a boat and we went fishing in the bay between South Shore and Fire Island. Everyone else aboard was local, and they’d all been fishing since childhood. I had to be shown everything: how to hold the rod, how to let out the line and reel it in again. I didn’t know I should reel in my line when the captain was ready to move on. I didn’t know the difference between a sea robin and a fluke. I had no idea which fish should be thrown back or which were edible. The crew was friendly and helpful, but openly astonished at my ignorance of the most basic fundamentals.
My friend’s mum said that Fire Island supposedly got its name for the poison ivy that’s ubiquitous over there. Cue reminiscences from the family about how painful a poison ivy allergic reaction can be. Also poison oak. Eek. We don’t have either plant over here, and I have no clue what either one looks like.
We had to be warned that there are deer ticks in the long grass and dunes. They carry Lyme disease, so it’s an important thing to know. I have no idea what a tick looks like. They’re present in the UK, but it’s a relatively new problem for us, and right now seems to be a bigger problem for pets than humans. I have never seen one, nor do I know anyone who has. I have no idea how to check myself for ticks, how to remove one if I should find it, or what a tick bite would look like. Just writing this is making me itch. Continue reading
“No, no, a cracked cup and a torn sliding door actually shows the beauty of impermanence!” #Why we can’t have nice things at our tea ceremony. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
I was chatting with a friend yesterday, and she was explaining why she wasn’t writing anymore; it was a long tale of interesting diversions (and socially responsible ones!), and she said that one thing that is taking up her creative mojo is introducing Japanese culture to foreigners. She provides a tea ceremony experience that is more than just people sitting on a mat, drinking the traditional bitter tea and having a taste of the beautiful tea sweets. She asks them to think about why the tea ceremony came about.
How much do you know about the Japanese tea ceremony? In many schools of tea philosophy, it’s very ritualized, and kids can join tea ceremony clubs in high school, while adults can study further and become teachers. Everything is prescribed: you fold your napkin this way. You rinse the teapot that way. You admire the tea bowl, take a drink in a certain manner, wipe the rim, then pass it to the next guest for them to admire, drink and wipe.
This ceremony often takes place in a very small, humble hut with a little door that looks like it was made for Little People. Big people must bend over and enter – the official line is that it shows humility and a lack of pride.
But my friend asks people to look beyond that. She gave two examples of why Continue reading
Jewelry Ice on a beach in Toyokoro. Photo by E.M. Duskova
Geoff’s new wife was an Instagrammer, and he had known it before the wedding, so he should have known what he was getting into. In theory, spending their honeymoon in a winter wonderland had sounded like a very good idea – long cold walks, followed by nice warm sheets. In practice, here he was on frozen beach at dawn while Dahlia capered across the black sands in her red parka and her ridiculously large camera. His nose was cold, his fingers were cold, and his ears were about to fall off. Continue reading
Hungry swans on Tokachi River. (Photo by Michaeline Duskova)
So, this is going to be a “hive mind” sort of a post where I pick your brains. The question is, “What’s the most interesting thing to do in your region during this season?”
For me, it’s the swans on Tokachi River. Every year, they migrate here to enjoy the clement weather (only -24C/-11F last night – I don’t even want to think about the cold they are escaping!). For a few months, they congregate on the river next to the hot springs, splash around, eat the goodies tourists throw to them, and just generally look as picturesque as they possibly can. Being swans, that’s pretty damn picturesque. Continue reading
How was your week? Did you learn anything new?
It’s been good news/bad news here. The good news is that after a frustrating few days when I couldn’t get a grip on my new story, on Tuesday things fell into place. A propos of nothing I had a flash of insight that gave me a premise for the book and the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) for all the main characters. As a bonus, I even figured out who owns the story.
The bad news is, it seems farming and gardening are important to the new WIP, and I have a brown thumb. My mother and grandmother were excellent gardeners, but I don’t even have houseplants, because they take one look at me and give up the ghost.
It would have been great if the Girls had sent up a plot I knew something about, but I’m not complaining–I’m grateful to get a workable idea. The garden stuff is important, but it’s a vehicle for the characters and conflict, and as long as I get those right, everything else is fixable. My current plan is Continue reading
I began the countdown to NaNoWriMo 2017 with last week’s post on outlining, which generated some good discussions amongst our commenters from both ends of the outlining continuum.
“More and more over the last few days I’m starting to think of outlining (at least the way I usually do it) as a first draft. It’s just lacking details.”
That makes sense to me. Whether your first pass through a new story is via an outline or via a purely “pantser” style process you’re just trying to tell yourself the story. However you start out you will (hopefully) wind up with a draft that you can then flesh out into a full-blown story.
The outline for my upcoming story currently looks a bit like a movie script. For each potential scene there are notes about location and timing, the characters who are involved, who “owns” the scene, and what the outcome of the scene will be. In some cases where I felt especially inspired, I even managed to capture a few lines of dialog or action that I thought of while sketching things out.
One thing that slowed me down a bit during the outlining process was not having the setting(s) for the story nailed down. I know where it starts and ends and have some ideas about the middle, but I definitely need to do some more work in that area.
Conveniently, this week my focus is on: Setting Continue reading
With Harvey mostly a memory leaving a staggeringly colossal disaster area behind it and Irma targeting Florida and another potentially colossal disaster for the U.S., I looked at disasters in romance novels. I read one recently that was set in a flood (freebie from RWA Nationals in a previous year), but I got really annoyed with the author because the hero and heroine kept standing around in floodwater while the rain was pounding down, discussing their history, wondering where his brother was and if her sister stayed at work, sharing scorching kisses and wishing for a bed. I’m not thinking that the folks going through Harvey were standing waist deep in floodwater reminiscing about a high school football game that took place 10 years ago. The memory of that book and the coverage of Harvey led my brain down the path of how an author could set a romance in a natural disaster and do justice to mother nature, the devastation and tragedy, and the romance without minimizing or horrorizing (is that a word?) the tragedy or the reader. As in, people are dying and these two idiots just want to do the horizontal tango. Continue reading