Setting: Different Perspectives

Last week during Teachers Write (which I am trying to keep up with!), there was a prompt about setting (you can read it here). Setting is a weakness of mine, an inconvenience at best. I usually just scan right past the setting in the books I read. I never thought about it as a way to reflect character, like Elana K. Arnold talks about in her blog post.

The exercise she had the teachers/librarians do was to observe a place near us. I, of course, was at Starbucks, so I wrote about the table I was sitting at.

Mahogany but a false one. Irregular grooves to look authentic. A little space between the edge of the table and a dark brown rim that mysteriously catches crumbs—useful to keep the floor clean, but a little odd to look at. What are the stories of these crumbs? Usually eight chairs, but a few taken to add to other tables. After all, this is a working table. The light is the best here. Not the place to be comfy and cozy with friends, but sometimes used that way when there’s no other space. For four people, two frappuccinos, one iced latte, one iced tea; tall, tall, grande, grande. One book, three phones, two computers, one tablet. The future of the coffee shop.

table

Then, a challenge: write about the same table, but this time, from a few different perspectives.

Lost 6 year old: I sit at the huge table. All these people here, and I don’t know who to ask about my mommy. Maybe Mommy is in the bathroom or maybe I’ll see her out the window. These people all look too busy to talk to me so I look at the table again. They don’t even look up at me. I lay my head down on the hard wood and try not to cry.

Satisfied house cat: Ah, a lovely place to stretch out. I sniff at the table and smell bitter and sweet. I stretch out like a tube. Not comfortable yet. I stand up and walk in circles until I find the exact spot to flop down. The wood is hard but the space is mine. I give my best glare to the people around me and they get up and leave, one by one. The table, and the universe, is mine.

15 year old, just heard about her parents’ divorce: I stumble over to the long table, the only area not crowded. I’d much rather be on one of the comfortable red chairs near the fireplace. Why am I here if all I want to do is hide? I open my journal and pretend to write, but all I do is sketch, my mother and my father, and then me and Skye, with a jagged line in between us. I want to take a paper clip and carve the picture into the table, because this is permanent and there should be a permanent record.

Fun! Maybe I’ll even examine the setting of my book. Maybe.

In Search of Inspiration, NWP-style

In my “What’s Up Wednesday” blog post, I said that I’d felt no writing inspiration lately. Even though I feel like inspiration should be a grand, sweeping thing – artwork, nature, music – I remembered back to my days at the National Writing Project in 2008.

NWP

If you’re not familiar with the National Writing project, it’s a program for teachers K-12, and the theory behind is that no matter what subject you teach, you also teach writing. Part of the premise of the class was that in addition to learning about teaching writing, you needed to walk the walk, and do writing yourself. My NWP experience was life-changing for me – it’s where I started my first novel, and made the habit of writing every day.

One of the things we did every day was a quick write, about 7 minutes writing to a prompt, pen moving the whole time to increase your writing fluency. The instructors always mentioned that you could write about your own topic instead, if you felt you needed to.

Today, I started writing to a prompt, but I couldn’t do it. I was too bothered by something that had happened last night, at a neighborhood party. I dashed off two notebook pages, and felt more peaceful about the situation.

And then, inspiration NWP-style hit! During class one time, we’d turned some prose into poetry, using phrases we liked from the narrative. I like arbitrary rules sometimes, so I underlined every 20th word, and first put them in order, hoping for a poem, only playing with line breaks and punctuation:

Vodka, too

I think, to I sleep

6:30

Asked to to a Jeff

her

if I

Here’s taken

Parties

Hmm, not too interesting, so I reorganized the words and tried for another poem:

6:30-

Jeff asked her to parties too,

I, I think-

If taken, I sleep

Here’s to a vodka

Definitely not a good poem either, but man, it was fun to play with the words. I miss that playfulness when I’m caught up in revisions, that sense that language can be a game, with zero expectations. And in NWP style, I’m sharing my work, knowing that the product is the process, and that everyone supports process.

Lipograms

I never heard of lipograms until I read about them on Scribophile (my online critique group) and from ED Martin, also on Scribophile (check out her blog at http://flotsamandjetsamandderelictme.blogspot.com/).

A lipogram is writing that deliberately excludes a letter or letters of the alphabet. An artificial constraint, but a fun one: you never know where your thoughts will go when you’re forced to think a different way. I think writing prompts function that way a lot for me – I tend to come up with something unexpected every time.

So, I’ll try it – will you try it with me?

Let’s say: no e? On any topic? Even a sentence or two?

Ally stands on a plank, balancing as it tips right and back, shifting across its bulk. Ally’s work boot grips it hard…

OH MY GOSH. I AM HORRIBLE AT THIS.

Two cats sniff at him, figuring his possibility. Food?

EVEN WORSE.

Yoga was tough. Warrior One, Warrior Two, Sivansana, Mountain, Downward Dog…. Why yoga? Just for Brody?

Brody wasn’t fascinating, wasn’t intriguing. But Brody was h-o-t hot. So Thursday nights, 7 o’clock, yoga.

His mat was pink, a funny color for a manly man. But pink didn’t diminish his masculinity and, um, body.

OKAY, IT’S A START, RIGHT?

NOW YOU DO IT. Pretty please? For me?

Writing prompts

Writing prompts are so cool.

Sometimes a good writing prompt can help warm up your writing muscles, or force you to think about a topic in a new way. I like the ways I can respond–although I write prose, sometimes I found myself responding in poetry.

The best thing for me is when a writing prompt leads to a story or a new way to look at your story. One time I had a whole novel grow out of a writing teacher’s instructions to write a page of conversation, all dialogue. When NaNoWriMo came along that year, that page grew into a whole novel! I also like to respond to a prompt from the perspective of one of my minor characters.

This book in particular has been great for writing prompts in my own growth as a writer:

So can we try it? Will you do it with me? If I post a prompt, will you quick-write (10 minutes or less, firm!) into the comments? Please?

Here’s a prompt:  SAYING GOODBYE

Here’s mine:

Saying goodbye (time: at least five minutes)

Lisa: Okay, guys, I’ve got to go.

H: Mommmmmeeeeeee! You didn’t give me a hug!

L: You didn’t give me one either!

Lisa: I gave you both hugs already. But come quickly and I can give you another one.

H: Don’t go yet.

Lisa: I have to. I need to go to work.

H: Why?

Lisa: Well, would you like it if you got to school and your teacher weren’t there yet?

H: But don’t you want to see my picture?

L: Wait, just listen to my piano piece.

Lisa: No, really, guys. I’m sorry. I’ll see you this afternoon. I love you.

H: Kissy?

Lisa: Okay, kissy. Have fun at swimming.

H: I love you Mama.

L: Bye, Mom.

Lisa: Oh, wait! You didn’t pack your library book. Oh, and B—can you make sure she takes her recorder?

B: Yeah.

Lisa: Bye, everyone.

H: I love you, Mama!

Six-Word December

So have you heard of Six-Word Memoirs?

Six-Word Memoirs was born at Smith Magazine, an online storytelling publication. Taking their inspiration from a six word story by Ernest Hemingway (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”), the magazine asked readers to come up with six word autobiographies. From this idea came a book:

Here are some of my favorite examples:

“I still make coffee for two.”

“Facebook has ruined my entire life.”

“Sperm too potent, now have triplets.”

“Nothing profound, I just sat around.”

“Naively expected logical world. Acted foolishly.”

“I can’t keep my own secrets.” [This one’s probably me.]

I was thinking, what would be a good six word description of the holiday season, or December, let’s say?

I came up with a couple (not wonderful; y’all can do better):

Rehearsals, shopping, stockings, wrapping, then peace.

Mommy, is Santa real? Um, uh…

Tall white candles illuminating stained glass.

Okay, your turn! Tell me your six-word December.