Setting Scene

Recently I attended a conference in Mendocino, CA. One of my afternoon sessions was about memoir writing. While I am not working on memoir, I hoped to learn something or at least be reminded of something that I might have forgotten.

The instructor talked a bit about scene. We all know that a given scene contains time and place. It can be past tense or current tense, or if you are interested in giving it a try, future tense.

Scene must have a purpose, a reason for being. It is going to show us something about the protagonist and maybe at least one antagonist. The opening scene inspires the reader to keep going.

A good writer will include sensory details so that the reader can “see” the scene. For example, are there chocolate chip cookies baking? Imagine the smell, the taste, the melted chips. Maybe the garbage hasn’t been taken out for a while. Imagine that smell and how it makes you feel.

Not all opening scenes have dialogue, but if possible, include some that create conflict or tension.

The main purpose of the opening scene is to ground the reader in place and time.

Your task is to write that opening scene of a story that’s been rattling around in your head. Remember to include sensory details and to create conflict.

Have fun with this one.

Autobiographical Fiction

When I was a small child, maybe three or four years old, my father worked at a union-based factory in Dayton, Ohio.

Every winter there was a huge party in which Santa came and distributed gifts, a large cake was shared and some type of entertainment kept the kids from getting into trouble. One such entertainer was the famous Sherry Lewis with her sock puppets. Another time it was a TV comic cowboy. My memories of the events are few and scattered, the bulk of them most likely built by stories told about me as I was growing up.

There are no pictures of the events for me to rely on, so if I chose to retell the stories, I would have to fabricate much of the setting and action.

We can use these stories to create original characters and situations, informed by the basis of those few facts stored in our memory.

Your task is to think of an event that occurred when you were quite small. If possible, pull out photos that take you back to that time and place. Then begin constructing a list.

Setting: where were you and what did it look like? Adding in your senses, what smells might there have been? What foods might have been served? Was it indoors or outside? In a house or apartment? Backyard, playground or school?

Appearance: your approximate age. Were you small compared to others your age, the same, or larger? Were you thin or heavy? Did you have short legs and arms or long? What color was your hair? How long was it? In what style did you wear it?

Clothing styles: In my story, I wore dresses, white socks turned down to create cuffs, and saddle shoes. What would you have been wearing? What was the fabric like? Scratchy? Stiff or soft from many washings. Threadbare or rich?

Characters: Who was present in your story? Brother or sister? Aunts or uncles? Grandparents? Parents? Outsiders, such as would be in my story, just people that my dad worked with. What did the principle characters look like? How did they behave toward you? Did they laugh at your funny ways or smirk? Chastise you or praise? Were they harsh or gentle?

Action: Every story must have action or it isn’t a story. So what happens? When you write, try to emphasize what makes it unique, original, interesting. Include conflict of some kind. Remember that there needs to be rising action, a series of events that lead to the climax. And, of course, resolution.

Tone: You have to choose whether your piece has a comic sense to it or whether it is a serious event. If comic, then your story has to be light, energetic and humorous. If serious, then there must be trauma of some kind that is resolved.

This will not be an easy task.

Have fun with this one.