Monday, November 16, 2009

Mentor Monday: Where Are You? (Part Two)

A few weeks ago, I asked you to look at examples from some books that give the reader a good sense of place. I asked you to think about whether you were bringing your readers along when you described the places your characters inhabited. This time, I’d like to use the same three examples and ask you to do a short exercise.

The art of describing a scene requires a fine touch because you are not only telling your reader where your characters are, you are also eliciting a mood. You are often setting the tone of your book. Some writers think of the setting as something akin to an additional character. I feel the setting should be so strong that, in most instances, your story could not take place anywhere else. Would a Tin Man have worked as a character if Dorothy had remained on her Kansas farm? How would a Huckleberry Finn have fared in a 19th century Boston? Just thinking about those possibilities makes me feel a little mentally disjointed. Would I be able to suspend disbelief enough to get into such stories? I don’t know.

So this week’s activity is to re-read the entries I quoted from Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lois Lowry, and Jean Fritz. I chose these passages because each of them open the story. Each writer sets us firmly in the place where her story occurs. This time, however, instead of reading these entries to get a sense of place, read to get a sense of mood. Write down words describing how each passage makes you feel. Try to write 3 to 5 words per entry. Then, when you have completed the exercise, write a sentence or phrase that describes what each passage seems to promise you. In other words, where do you think the author will take you? Will the novel take you to place of comfort? A place of fear? A place of adventure? Try it now:

“Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.
The great, dark trees of the Big Woods stood all around the house, and beyond them were other trees and beyond them were more trees. As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder

This passage makes me feel:_______________________________________________

Ingalls will probably take me to a story about:___________________________________

“If, instead of a pencil, I held a brush in my hand, I would paint the scene: the scene of Autumn Street…and Grandfather’s house would loom huge, out of proportion, awesome and austere, with the clipped lawn as smooth and green as patchwork pockets on a velvet skirt. The rough pink brick of the sidewalk, bordered by elms, would wind the length of the street, past the Hoffman’s house, past the bright forsythia bushes that grew around the great-aunts’ front porch, past the homes of strangers and friends and forgotten people, finally disappearing where the woods began.
…I would blur the woods. I would blur them with a murky mixture of brown and green and black, the hueless shade that I know from my dreams to be the color of pain.”
Lois Lowry

This passage makes me feel:_______________________________________________

Lowry will probably take me to a story about:__________________________________

“In my father’s study there was a large globe with all the countries of the world running around it. I could put my finger on the exact spot where I was and had been ever since I’d been born. And I was on the wrong side of the globe, I was in China in a city named Hankow, a dot on a crooked line that seemed to break the country right in two. The line was really the Yangtse River, but who would know by looking at a map what the Yangstse River really was?
“Orange-brown, muddy mustard-colored. And wide, wide, wide. With a river smell that was old and came all the way from the bottom. Sometimes old women knelt on the riverbank, begging the River God to return a son or grandson who may have drowned. …but I knew how busy the River God must be. All those people on the Yangtse River! Coolies hauling water. Women washing clothes. Houseboats swarming with old people and young, chickens and pigs. Big crooked-sailed junks with eyes painted on their prows so they could see where they were going…”
Jean Fritz

This passage makes me feel:_______________________________________________

Fritz will probably take me to a story about:____________________________________

Tomorrow, we’ll look at these passages one final time to notice the techniques the writers use to elicit these emotions.


Diane Mayr said...

I can't wait until tomorrow! Can you believe I've never read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books? I think I'll listen to them on audio.

Barbara said...

Three great, evocative openings that immediately suck you into the story. Which go to prove that you don't always have to open with a big action scene on page one.