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Category Archives: Settings in Fiction

Story Settings from riding the bus to readings

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?

          Eudora Welty

I don’t have a car and don’t drive so I have to take public transit to get to locations for my book readings (unless out of town). Public transit can include subways and streetcars, but mostly it has been on Toronto buses. Besides opening my eyes to new areas of Toronto and getting around in them, what I experience can conjure up story settings, characters and even plots.

For a couple of library readings I had to change buses at the Warden subway station. The bus bays here are open at both ends and could be very windy. Because the bays resemble a somewhat dark tunnel (lights on at night) it conjures up stories of someone or something menacing suddenly appearing at one end of the tunnel. There are nine bus bays so a chase scene between victim and suspect or cop and suspect can be easily imagined. Throw in a bus or two entering or exiting a bus bay and you have a different take on the chase scenes that occur between and against cars on busy streets..

The bus stop at the other end for both library branches wasn’t right by the library. One was at an intersection of three major roads – very busy and on the dark and not stormy night I returned home – cold. I stayed in the bus shelter, hoping I was at the right stop and my bus would arrive soon before any strange person in this unfamiliar area came by. It all worked out okay and I even made an immediate bus transfer at the Warden station. A subsequent trip to this library branch for another reason was in daylight and although the weather wasn’t warmer, the difference in atmosphere was palpable – from blackness to sunny brightness. This contrast could make for a great setting to perhaps show the main character going through a somewhat familiar area in daylight but how menacing it becomes at night, especially if a weird person shows up at the bus stop. Or maybe someone from a car tries to grab her. You can use your imagination.

The other bus ride from this Warden Station was 40 minutes up to the north end of Toronto. I did this run early afternoon. The scenery was a mixture of bungalows, apartment buildings and plazas. Nothing really interesting on the surface. The interest was inside the bus – it was a good representation of all ages and cultures in Toronto. Throw in large baby strollers and bungle buggies (not the wheelies) taking up space on a crowded bus and you could conjure up a story of conflict between some passengers, especially if the protagonist has no other way to get around with her twins and the antagonist hates strollers on buses. (This is an issue in Toronto).

Another bus route took me through the older well-kept homes in the Leaside area of Toronto – some green grass with spring just awakening – all of it filled me with peace. But what if your main character was riding home on the bus in this quiet area when the doors open at a stop and a passenger steps in, then pulls out a gun, and starts firing.

So, the next time you take public transit (even underground) notice your surroundings. They can provide the setting for your next story and kick-start a plot with original characters. Just don’t get too carried away and miss your stop.

Upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point readings:

This evening, Thursday, May 16, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Crime & Mystery Writing Panel

Moderating a panel of mystery novelists on plot and characters especially when police enter the picture. Presented by the Canadian Authors Association Toronto Branch and featuring Crime Writers of Canada authors, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Panelists:

  • Brent Pilkey http://www.brentpilkey.com/  author of the Rage novels who, as a police constable with Toronto Police Services, has an inside view of police procedure; and
  • Rick Blechta http://www.rickblechta.com/ whose novels aren’t exactly cozies — all have main characters involved in the music industry and when murder enters their lives, come into contact with the police.

More info http://www.canauthorstoronto.org/events.html

Thursday, May 23, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Sharon A. Crawford hosts a Crime Writers of Canada Books ‘n’ Beverages reading at Q Space

Join these CWC authors as they read from their latest crime (fiction and fact) books, Meet and mingle, have a drink, something to eat and buy some books.

Melodie Campbell

Mel Bradshaw

Rosemary McCracken

Meg Howald

Brent Pilkey

Catherine Astolfo

Simone St. James

Nate Hendley

Rick Blechta 

Sharon A. Crawford

Location: 382 College St., Toronto, Ontario

More info about these authors at http://crimewriterscanada.com/

More upcoming gigs listed at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

And for those who can’t make these events check out my videos – one link to all three now.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC505OMPiVNy27zCFfND_8WA

Beyond the Tripping Point now has two reviews on my amazon.com account. Click on the book cover at the top. If you’ve read the book and made any recent purchase from amazon.com you can add your review if you wish.

And I haven’t forgotten about the readings with the Grade 7 classes – all 42 students. Coming up in a future post.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Importance of Seasons and Days in Story

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection links to amazon.com

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets…

          Opening sentence of Paul Clifford (1830) by Edward Bulwer-Lyyton

Your story’s protagonist is heading out the door for work. She is wearing a dress, no coat, but your story is set in December. Or you have her complaining of waking up to yet another rainy day, yet when she gets in her car and drives, there is no mention of rain pelting down on her car windows.

Obviously the author isn’t paying attention to her story’s setting – time of day, time of year, and location. (December in North American is different than December in Australia or New Zealand).

The seasons and time of day (or night) are important to your story’s (short story of novel) content. They can also factor in with your plot. In my story, “Porcelain Doll” from my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point it is stated that it is summer and the Holden family is going on their annual train trip to grandpa’s farm. The scene with the parents and 12 ½ -year-old Sarah about her attire goes like this.

“Daddy,” I said.

“Sarah, what is that you are wearing?” He pointed the cigar up at me.

“That” was the new sundress Mama had slaved over late last night. When I put it on this morning, Mama had smiled with pleasure. I thought it made me look quite grownup.

“You look like a floozy.” Daddy shook the cigar. “Go up to your room and change into something decent. And bring down one of your dolls. You can carry it.” He turned to Mama. “Alice, what were you thinking?” (Copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford, Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press)

The actual season or time of day or weather doesn’t mean the characters can’t dress inappropriately if there is a reason such as the character always wears long underwear, jeans and a sweatshirt. But you have to work that aspect into your story. Or, as with Sarah Holden, after this outburst from Daddy, she does the following:

I burst into tears and clomped upstairs. I yanked off the sundress and pulled on a vest, long-sleeved dress and a jacket. That should make me look flat, like “Daddy’s little girl.” (Copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford, Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press)

In “Road Raging,” Dana Bowman is driving along Lake Road…

Take that hit-and-run on Lake Road last fall. You probably read about it in the Thurston Herald-Times.  October 20, 1999 I believe was the date.

That night, I was driving along Lake Road at dusk,… (Copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford, Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press)

And shortly thereafter…

The car interior jarred into brightness. A red car, high beams on, flew by, just missing me. I jerked the steering wheel and my car slid to the right. I hit the brakes.

“Damn.” I pounded the steering wheel. “No, you’re not getting away with this.” I restarted the car and resumed my route.

A few miles up the road, where it takes a wild turn before you reach Snow Lake, my car lights spotted the forest green car, dented like a junkyard special,…

Here it is fall at dusk so car lights would be on and the above makes sense. Later in the story when the police arrive, it is fully dark and when they try to find where Dana is almost run off the road, they can’t find it.

In both these examples, these setting aspects play a part in the plot.

So, to summarize a few rules of thumb:

  1. Make sure your setting’s time, season and weather are appropriate and consistent to your plot. This doesn’t mean your story can’t take place in different seasons, but you need to let the reader know either in the narrative or as some authors do, setting up chapters into different seasons or days.
  2. For any story not set in the actual present (even two months ago), check online with weather organizations (US National Climatic Data Centre, Environment Canada, etc.) pertinent to your setting for what the weather was like then. You don’t want to have everything dry in New Orleans when Katrina hit in 2005.
  3. Try to work in the weather, time of day, etc. into your plot and how your characters act. For example, a snowstorm could isolate characters with an unknown murderer at a ski chalet – no hydro and no phones (even cell) and no one can get in or out. This is a cliché but you can get the picture.
  4. Don’t forget the idiosyncrasies of your characters if that includes not dressing for the weather.

Happy writing. I will be taking a week’s break from readings and workshops connected to my book but will be updating my social media for May’s activities. Check my website www.samcraw.com for links, including the Beyond the Tripping Point page. But give me a few days. I have a garden to attend to as well.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Setting the setting for your fiction

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

— Marcel Proust

Some authors use fictitious settings for their novels and short stories; some use the real thing. I do both. Which works best when?

In the four linked short stories in my mystery collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012), I do both. Toronto and Goderich (the latter in the story “Saving Grace”) are real, albeit set back in 1999. But for the main location where the fraternal twin PIs, Dana Bowman and Bast Overture live and work, I use a fictitious small city, Thurston, approximately 30 miles north of Toronto. Thurston is a combination of Aurora and Newmarket, two small cities just north of Toronto, and Guelph, Ontario.

Why did I use this combo for setting?

I chose a fictitious place for the stories here and in the prequel novel because:

  1. I wanted the combination for various features unique to each. Guelph (which I have visited in the past) is for the lake. But I lived in Aurora for 23 years to late 1998 so am familiar with a lot of what Aurora was like then. Newmarket is barely three miles up the highway from Aurora (now they are practically joined with urban sprawl and strip plazas so bad that if you want to meet someone at McDonald’s you have to specify which Mcdonald’s).  So here I was going on the familiar.
  2. Aurora nd Newmarket are part of York Region and the police force there is York Regional. I base the police force in the twins ‘stories on York Regional but call it Cooks Regional Force (and the region is obviously Cooks Region). I do this so I don’t have to be exact with police procedure in York Region in the late 1990s, but make sure any police procedure is the way it was in police departments during that time. I have a police consultant who is also a published mystery (police procedure) author as well as a working police constable. Some police equipment used then surprises me – such as wiretapping –big reel-to-reel tape machines that had to be turned on manually when recording, for example, calls from kidnappers. That made for some tricky sequences as how to set it up in my prequel novel. Toronto Police and the Ontario Provincial Police (as you can see in “Saving Grace”) are “themselves.” I didn’t want to create fiction to the ridiculous,
  3. Place names and street names. One of my mystery-novel-writing colleagues uses real streets in Toronto, but makes the numbers higher than the actual streets. I use a mixture of fact and fiction. For Thurston, Ontario, addresses are made-up. But, from my past living experience in Aurora/Newmarket, they resemble somewhat what is there – not the Mini-Mall though, and not The Attic Investigative Agency, which the twins operate from the attic level of their old house. That house is actually based on a number of houses I’ve seen or been in: the outside comes from an old three-story house, complete with balconies and turrets, I saw and photographed in downtown, London, Ontario. The inside of the twins’ house is based on a one a late aunt and uncle lived in (Toronto) when I was growing up, plus other houses I’ve seen the inside of doing interviews for stories as a journalist or house hunting. In other stories, I use real places but may not name them. For example, in “Missing in Action” I have a murder occur behind a real church (including the real location) but don’t name the church. In “Porcelain Doll” I use the real town of Hanover (among other real towns and cities) but don’t name the antique ahop there. And as a good part of “Porcelain Doll” is set on a train in the summer of 1965 I make darn sure I have the train layout, etc. accurate. It helps that I rode trains in Ontario and Michigan as a child during that time period and my late Dad worked as a timekeeper for one of the Canadian railways then. But I also did further research – online, from books on the Canadian railways, and files I photocopied from the Ontario Archives.

Why this mix of fact and fiction? I think to protect both the “real thing” and yes, myself. It also give me a bit of leeway when writing. The main thing is what are you comfortable using and will it work? How much research do you want to do (and there is always research as you can see from the above)? And if you are writing fiction based on fact you might want to change the location.

What do you do for settings in your fiction? Fact or fiction or a combination?

And if you click on my book cover above it takes you to my book on http://www.amazon.com

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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