Sample Settings: Urban

patsy-s-original-candiesHey, y’all!  Here is your second week of sample settings!

As mentioned last time, this week’s settings are urban, meaning there are tons of people and buildings about.  (Last week’s settings were rural, whereas next week’s will be historical.  And then on to this month’s stupid comic! Ho!)

Urban Settings:

Amtrack Train Car in Transit, WA USA to BC CAN

Patsy’s Candy Factory, Colorado Springs CO

BP Energy Center western door, Anchorage AK

I also really want to put up my notes on a jail admission lobby in Colorado, buuuuuut… they’re out in the car and it’s late and it’s cold and I don’t want to go outside.  *hunkers down in blanket fort* That just means that you lucky readers will get a super-exciting-special midweek update at some point!  Lucky, lucky you!

In the interest of not spamming my fantastic followers’ inboxes, I’ll just update this post instead of doing a new one.  So be sure to check back Wednesday-ish. Until then, happy writing!

Sample Settings: Rural

Hello, friends! As promised in last week’s post, Setting the Scene, I’ve posted some sample settings of places that I visited this summer and fall.  This week, I’ve put up the rural locations.  Next week, I’ll post urban ones, and the following week will showcase historical settings.  I plan to add more settings as the whimsy takes me, and am glad to add any that you fine readers are willing to send my way. (nudge, nudge)

When recording these places, I typically jotted down just a few background notes to be filled in a little more later, and then really concentrated on using all my senses to get a ‘feel’ for the location.  As I mentioned last week, the physical stimulus is only one aspect of a setting, but it is the one that we humans pick up on most easily.  Having a really solid physical setting will help to set your reader in the location right along with your characters.

And just for definition’s sake, I defined ‘rural’ as a place having more trees than humans.  (Shut up, desert and ocean. You know what I mean.)


Rural Settings:

Pond during storm, Elbert CO

Lakeside woods at night, Silver Lake CA

Discovery Bay beach, Port Hadlock, WA

Cranberry patch, Fairbanks AK

Setting the Scene

img_0754Where are you?  Seriously- right now, where are you?  Have you really thought about that?

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my boys’ dark bedroom, typing while they fall asleep (because the little devils won’t do it without supervision).  The room is near blackness except for this bright screen blasting my face.  My hands are brightly illuminated, pale against the black keyboard, and the shiny spines of scores of picture books lining my kids’ wall glint in the blue light.  The boys are quiet by now, probably asleep, and the fish tank is gurgling away- the tinkle of water from the waterfall filter, the whirrr of the air pump, the occasional blip of water as that crazy pleco tries to jump clear of the water like a miniature whale.  (Seriously, why does he do that?)  The room is cool, a little damp from the rain outside, and has that musty, dusty smell of little boys who don’t clean their room unless I’m dangling Minecraft and a candy bar over their heads.

It is a tiny space, maybe eight by twelve feet, but it is the space I exist within.  But setting is more than just a place.  It’s also my era, my culture, my upbringing.  It’s the government of my nation and the sounds my language makes and the endless minutia I take for granted.  Without my setting, with all its many facets, I have no context.  I am adrift.

As a real person, I can’t ever be really without a setting.  I will always have a location, a time, a social environment.  Yet, I often find myself (especially in short stories) writing characters who exist in a great Nothing- they are talking heads, having conversations and moving from Blank A to Blank B, which is to say, not really moving at all.  Seriously, if there’s no starting point and no ending point, it’s really hard to convey movement.

So let’s just be blunt: setting is super mega important.  Even if you try to make a story without one (although I’m not sure why you would), bits and pieces will find their way in, and your readers will either a) be frustrated and confused because they can’t figure out where the heck they are, or b) make something up and then be confused and frustrated with you when they’re wrong.  Humans don’t exist without setting.  Nothing exists without setting.  So make sure your stories don’t either.

When I’m getting set to write a new novel (like, oh, saaaaay… next month?), one of the first things I do after deciding what the story is and who the main cast is, is to work out a setting.  Like most other things in your first draft, it will evolve.  But it’s important to lay some groundwork.

The elements of setting can be roughly divided into four (or more or less, depending on specificity) categories: chronological, psychological, physical, and contextual.  Every single element of a setting falls into one or more of these categories.  Does your scene take place as night is falling?  That’s chronological.  Does it take place on a mountain?  That’s a physical element.  Also, if it’s raining, that’s another physical element, and if it’s been raining for weeks, that passage time is another chronological element.  But if that rain is flooding everything in the valley and hoards of desperate refugees are roaring up the mountainside, then you’ve also got contextual and psychological elements in there as well.

Try to have at least one element from each category in every scene of your book.  This gives your setting depth and vividness; any single element would make a very flat scene.  And while your characters might not know the history of a particular street corner, they would certainly (barring specific disabilities) know what it looks like, smells, like, etc.  Never skimp on the sensory details; these more than anything else will ground your readers right there with your characters in these lovely settings you’re writing.

When writing places that already exist, do your research!  Don’t put the gas station on the wrong side of the street or make a winter in Brazil subzero (unless there’s magic at play!).  You’ll get called out on it, ya lazy loser.  Know what the world is like and let it sing its own truth.

Making a new world from scratch for your characters to live in?  Here are a few things that I like to consider:

Where is it?  Does your story take place in a particular neighborhood?  In another country?  On another planet?  In a different universe entirely?

What are the resources and the geography of the place?  What problems might this create for the people living there?  What resources would it naturally supply?  How do these things affect the cultures that grow up in these places?

When is it?  What time of day is the scene?  What season (weather) is the story?  Is this the current day?  A long long time ago?  The distant future?  Or does it exist on a different timescale altogether?

What is the history?  What was this place like a decade ago?  A century ago?  What triumphs and disasters went into shaping the current situation?  What about your character’s personal history?  Do they see the baker’s shop on the corner and think about their first kiss?  Or their first assassination?  Just as history shapes nations, personal history shapes people.

What is the culture?  What are the values of the people who live there (truth, or wealth, or safety, or having the prettiest pomsky possible)?  (Easy conflict comes from any variances in these values between groups and individuals.  Maybe your character doesn’t want to cheat to win the pomsky competition, but his family’s pressuring him.)  Once you know what people there value the most, work out from there to build a culture.  We could spend a whole blog post talking about creating cultures (and maybe we will some day!), but just for now, remember that cultures are organic things that evolve naturally from the values and the resources of a group of people.

Obviously, there is much much more to setting than we’re able to get to in one blog post, but hopefully this is enough to get you started!  As further resources, the next few weeks I’ll post sample settings that I gathered over the summer.  Until then, happy writing!

Podcast: What Makes A Good Romance?

Man, romance is a ginormous genre!  Could there possibly be any more room for yet another romance?  Listen in as I pester a bunch of people to find out in this, my first ever podcast! *flings confetti*

All hail the following podcast helper elves!

Shelly Tappen, William Marcotte, Mary Tait, Harold Tappen, Al Shad, Robert Marcotte, and Lazlo for their beautiful voices, as well as Madison Dusome and August Evrard for their insights on podcasting in general.  Also, thanks to Nat King Cole, Ben Folds, and Claude-Achille Debussy for their awesome music.

If you’re still looking for a good definition of romance, try the Romantic Novelist’s Association’s website.

And if you’re curious about those stats from the podcast, and lots of other great information, check out the Romance Writers of America’s website.

Writing Grant Writing

writingLast week, I applied for my first ever writing grant.  And, although I won’t know for about a month what the judges thought of the attempt, I did learn quite a bit about grant writing over the process.

The grant application, which seems to be fairly typical for artsy grants, asked for responses in several topics: my bio, my service to other writers, the potential grant money usage, and finally, a writing sample.  (Other topics that you can expect to see on applications fairly regularly might be an artist statement, career plan, or project description.  All grants are different.)

What struck me most about this application was that it was all basically information I already had.  I already had an author bio prepared as part of my querying and author branding materials.  (You did do the author branding worksheet packet, right?)  I was well aware of what work I did with other writers, and I already had an idea of what I wanted to do with the money, should I receive it.  And I had tons of writing samples lying around because I kind of do a lot of writing.  So other than needing a few hours’ worth of tweaks, I was practically there.

This won’t always be the case.  Sometimes grant writing will take hours upon hours upon hours of your precious writing time.  Sometimes, it’s just a matter of plugging materials you already have on hand into the right boxes.  It’s up to you to decide when it’s worth it, and when it’s better for you to just keep writing publishable material.  When making that decision, do keep in mind that grants are about more than just having someone toss a wad of cash at you.  They expand your writing network, they give you opportunities to take more classes or hire an editor, they add prestige and pad your author bio, and at their very most basic, they are a nice pat on the back in what can otherwise be a pretty thankless endeavor most of the time.  So when you’re thinking about whether or not it’s worth your time to try for a writing grant, think beyond the dollars (or yen or pounds or euros or whatever).

But you won’t be able to make that call until you’re looking at potential grants.  So where does one find available grants?  As with many things these days, it’s now easier than ever before.  All you need is the internet and a little super-sleuthing know-how.  Here are a few ideas to get you started in your happy hunt.

Writing Groups  Writing groups often put on their own writing grants.  This includes large groups (SCBWI, SFWA, etc), and smaller groups, like my own Alaska Writer’s Guild which offers several writing grants, scholarships, and awards every year.  If you haven’t already, consider joining one of these groups if you can.  Even if you never get a single dollar out of them, it can make a big difference in the trajectory of your career.

Art Foundations and Councils  There are many major foundations and art councils that have more monies than I can count up for grabs every year (Rasmuson Foundation, NEA,  etc), but many smaller local groups do as well.  Much like writing groups, it’s generally best to start with the local groups and work your way out from there.  Check out your city’s arts association or literacy council, or your state’s arts council, before going straight for the national groups.

The English Department  It’s surprisingly easy to contact your local college or university’s English department and ask about any writing or art grants that they’re aware of.  Not only do the teachers, who are very often writers themselves, keep track of these things, but often the department itself maintains a list that it shares with its students- and maybe you, too!  Not all departments do, but it’s worth asking.

Online Lists  These take a little more sifting to pick out the good ones from the… less good ones.  But these can be excellent resources for busy writers.  I hesitate to put up any lists that I haven’t thoroughly vetted, but I have spent a little time around and it seems pretty legit.  (But please don’t pick up crazy viruses and make me sad.)  Any readers with helpful resources on this front could pretty please put them in the comments section?  *bats eyelashes*

If you’re still not sure where to look, has pulled together a fantastic resources page that can be found here, which also references Gigi Rosenberg’s own resource list here.

Once you’ve found a writing grant that’s a good fit- itself arguably the hardest part of grant writing- it’s time to hit that keyboard.  Good luck!

(And don’t forget to share in the comments if you have any great grant writing resources or tips! You guys are the best!)

Trope Fail: Crime Solving Teens II

Happy Labor Daybor!  And here at long last is August’s comic.  You may recognize the first part of the comic from its previous incarnation, Crime Solving Teens the First, but after much deliberation, I’ve decided that this alternate ending is probably much more likely.  Enjoy!

TropeFail Mystery II

PS- This probably comes as a shock to none of you, but, much like our teenaged friends here, also failed to solve my own mystery regarding what the heck is wrong with my drawing tablet.  As such, this was hand-drawn and scanned, a scanning which I nearly had to make my husband do.  And so the technofail continues.  *sad trombone*

I’ma go play Worms Armageddon.