Sunset Story

            Time of day affects the setting of a story. Imagine a broiling hot trek across an Arizona desert or an early morning hike on a Minnesota Lake in the dead of winter. Bot situations might be untenable without proper preparation and the correct gear.

            Try to recall the most spectacular sunset you have ever seen. Where were you? Who were you with? What made it memorable? Was it the company, the situation or the location? Perhaps it was a combination of all those things.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character experiences a sunset so profound that it touches her heart. The colors, the people she’s with, the location all come into play. What she’s doing just before sunset occurs sets the stage.

            As you write remember to include sensory details. Readers will want to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch everything that your character does. Dialogue is also important because it is through conversation that feelings will be revealed.

            Reread looking to see if the picture that you paint with words comes clear.

            Have fun with this one.

Setting Changes Affect Story

            You’ve outlined your setting including research into what it was like way back when. If lucky, you visited the cities and are familiar with buildings, streets and plants. Your plot takes the character all over that environment, in and out of predicaments determined by geographical elements.

            Have you taken into consideration how time changes the setting? Does it snow in winter, pour in the spring and roast in the summer? Is there only one season because the story is set on a planet, far, far away? If the setting changes/doesn’t change, how does this affect story?

            A time traveler might have to find clothes if they’re dropped into a winter landscape. Perhaps the desert figures significantly in the story as your character rides a camel over dunes. However, what if the story never changes location: it’s always in the same city, the same house, the same neighborhood? Change still has to take place.

            Your task is to write a story in which significant changes in setting occur that affect plot. Begin by listing those elements that would most likely happen based upon where you’ve chosen to set the scene. For example, during the length of the story will seasons change? Will a catastrophic weather event destroy homes, streets, lives?

            Once you’ve chosen the changes that can logically be incorporated into your story, begin writing. Remember to include details so that readers can “see” the changes both in nature and in terms of how the changes affect your character’s thoughts and actions.

            Have fun with this one.

Choosing the Time Period

Every story exists within a particular time period. Historical novels are normally centered in the past, ranging from the earliest days of man to the near present. Think cave men and last year.

Futuristic stories might be on Mars after its been settled, on a spaceship as it zooms toward a distant planet, or on Earth after an apocalypse.

When a story occurs affects weather, clothing, buildings, communication systems, all kinds of infrastructure issues and many more. If you’re an expert on a particular era, perhaps you don’t have to research to get information, but most of us will have to spend a substantial amount of time gathering data.

Your task is to write a story that takes place in a time period other than now. Begin by listing three different ideas that intrigue you. Choose the one you will enjoy learning more about. Research until you come up with enough information to develop your world.

Include sensory details so that your readers will grasp when and where the events take place, but be careful not to employ an information dump to do so. Weave together story and details, dialogue and narrative.

Have fun with this one.

Rooms, Houses and Buildings

In any story, regardless of genre, characters enter buildings of various types, ranging from simple mud huts to enormous skyscrapers. They might pass through a grand ballroom with an array of sparkling chandeliers or a rustic bathroom consisting of a hole in the floor.

No matter the room, the descriptions must be real because rooms are where we gather. In the ballroom they might attend a conference focusing on a medical issue or participate in a fiftieth wedding anniversary. At some point they use the bathroom. Are the counters granite or mud shelves imbedded in the wall? Does water run out of an artistic arrangement of descending pots or is there a simple bowl with standing water?

The spaces through which our characters pass reveal details about environment and its impact on they lives. Your descriptions are therefore critical in setting the scene. The way residences are decorated tell us who the characters are. A sparsely outfitted studio is vastly different from a castle on a hill filled with massive wood tables, chairs and cabinets.

Your task is to write a story in which buildings are not just backdrops but play a role in adding to the story.

How will readers know if a room is lavish unless hints of splendor appear? Or if the hut’s dirt floor is neatly brushed or covered with straw mats?

While setting is important, it also cannot dominate the scene. Be careful when writing to ensure that the amount of description does not overtake the story.

Have fun with this one.

Draw a Map

Back in the old days when going somewhere new you’d pull out a paper map and highlight the streets to be crossed in order to arrive when and where you were going. Today we rely on portable devices that show in real time where we are and tell us when to switch lanes, when to turn, when we have arrived.

Before you write a story we need to establish a map. If it takes place in a real city, real neighborhood, procure a paper map. Drive on the streets that you will use, making note of businesses such as fast food, medial centers, shopping opportunities. Mark schools, churches and traffic lights.

Take pictures of houses, plants, trees. Crosswalks. Intersections. Stop and wind down your windows. Listen to the birds. Smell the flowers in bloom or the pollution from industry or car exhausts.

In other words, cover the scene so completely that it lives in your mind and on paper.

Your task then is to go for a drive. Take a camera and paper and pen. Stop periodically to snap images and to record sights, sounds, smells. Spend an hour or so over each day over the period of time that your story will cover. Winter, spring, summer and fall might be changes to the area that play important parts in the story.

Create an album or folder on your computer and access the information before you begin each writing session.

Have fun with this one.

A Safe Place to Live

We’ve heard the stories of refugees who leave war-torn countries in search of a peaceful place in which to live. They yearn for jobs, food, and a relief from fear. They pack what belongings they can carry, and walk mile after mile, experiencing countless hardships along the way.

Our hearts go out to them, even when there is little we can do to offer comfort.

What about the refugees closer to home? The shopping-cart people who get up every morning and begin pushing up and down streets, hoping to find someplace out of the weather that also offers some degree of privacy.

The homeless man, sound asleep leaning against a shopkeeper’s wall in downtown San Francisco. If he’s lucky, he has pieces of cardboard on which to lie and a blanket as cover. He is dirty, ragged and hungry.

Standing on many corners are street beggars. Signs in hand, they speak of wanting a few cents to buy a meal, a job that can give them money for a place to stay for at least one night, or maybe medicine for a sick child.

It is easy to write stories in which the characters are comfortable in fancy home, in tree-lined neighborhoods, with two working parents and new cars in the drive.

It is much more challenging to speak for the speechless, to tell their stories with compassion and understanding.

Your task is to choose a refugee and place her in a scene. Give her a voice. Listen to her heart. Interact with her, in some way, either in first person or as an omniscient narrator.

Wake up with her in the morning, walk about with her in the day, sleep with her at night. Eat meals with her. Follow her as she searches for a bathroom in which to wash up. Be with her, not as a sympathetic ear, but as an equal. Walk in her shoes, even if just for one day.

Good luck with this one.