RSS

Tag Archives: Setting in Fiction

Writing stories from extreme weather

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Can you take an extreme weather situation you lived through and write a story about it?

Often living through these types of events can cause a lot of trauma, even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And one way to get on the road to healing is to write about it. If it is too painful to write your story, then why not use it as a basis for fiction. Getting your imagination to work with what is now a reality can often produce a powerful short story or novel.

Examples are floods, tornadoes, volcanoes, and ice storms, The one in the news lately is the severe prolonged ice storm in the province of New Brunswick in Canada’s Maritimes. That one caused widespread prolonged power damages.

I wasn’t there for that one, but did go through the one in southern Ontario, particularly Toronto, in December 2013.

So, give your imagination free reign for story ideas. If you’ve lived through an experience, your experience will factor in for what it feels like, what can happen, what it looks like. But you want a different story, different characters – could be mystery, science fiction, fantasy, young adult, romance.

Or you might want to take one or two events that happened during the storm – to you or friends and go from there. For example, in the December 2013 ice storm in Toronto, I had a belligerent boarder and her cat living with me when the power went off. Fortunately the phone (a land line) still worked so my son (who still had power – it wasn’t everywhere in Toronto – in fact there were blocks with no power right beside blocks with power) could phone me. My son arranged and paid for a hotel room for the boarder, her cat and me for two days and took us out to dinner the first evening there.

Outside it was icy – sidewalks, roads, trees and power lines, some still down. Until downtown where the hotel was – the scene was more normal, dry sidewalks, lights and heat.

Oh yeah, the boarder’s cat was black.

So, what can you come up with in a story with just that much information?

If you click on the Beyond Blood novel above it will take you to more information about my Beyond books. No floods or tornadoes, but there is a scary scene in a lake, both above and under water in Beyond Blood, and a hair-raising car drive up a highway in the short story “No Breaks” from Beyond the Tripping Point. The idea for the short story came from something that happened to a friend and me, but the short story is not our story. The scary lake scene in Beyond Blood comes from a few pieces in my life – I can’t swim, being on a sailboat with a friend, her boyfriend and my son, and the swimmer (my friend), not me, falling into the lake. This latter wasn’t a traumatic scene (it was actually funny and yes my friend did get herself safely back onto her sailboat – and she was laughing all the way about it), but it does give you the idea of taking something you lived through and “spinning a yarn” from it.

Creative writing to all.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

More on your setting in fiction

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Besides actual location, setting also includes information peculiar to what is happening in the location. For example, in my novel Beyond Blood, the main character PI Dana Bowman goes sailing with Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding. Fielding has been sailing for years but this is Dana’s first time aboard a large sailboat – more like a small yacht. So I combined my limited sailing background with checking in with an expert in this area and also some reading online and in books about sailing..

A few years ago I wrote a newspaper story on a fellow, a seasoned sailor, who was planning to sail at least partway around the world. His “sailboat” (the small yacht type) was anchored in the Harbourfront area of Toronto Harbour. I made an appointment to interview him for the story and met him on his boat. When I arrived he was swabbing the deck.

I told him I was also going to ask a few extra questions for background information for a novel I was writing. He gave me the boat tour – it is amazing what can be packed into the small enclosed area below – everything from a small kitchen to a bathroom to a place to sleep. He was very informative but he did not take me out on Lake Ontario. So, I had to go back a few years when my son, still a child, and I went sailing with my friend and her boyfriend – for the feel of it, to remember you always wear a life jacket when on a sailboat, to how the winds affect the sailing, to falling into the water. No, I (who can’t swim) didn’t fall in, but my friend, a good swimmer did. She was okay with her life jacket on and just laughed about it as she swam the short distance back to the boat and climbed back aboard. But it gave me information for Beyond Blood although no one falls in the water.

So when Dana first goes out on the water with Fielding, I work it in as a friendly lesson while avoiding making it an expository or Sailing 101. Here is a short excerpt:

“Here put on a life jacket.” He handed me one which I donned. Fielding put on the other one and shoved the cooler under the floor. “Please sit down while I hoist the sail.”

” Need any help?”

“No.” He looked into my face. “Fine, but you have to obey orders if you want to crew.”

“Aye, aye sir.” I saluted,

Fielding moved away and moved into what resembled a cockpit, lowered the centreboard and removed the tarp, exposing two sails.”

“Here, store the tier below deck.”

“Huh?”

Fielding pointed to where the cooler rested. Taking hold of the tier, I folded it and placed it below deck.

“Maybe I’ll just watch this time.” I sat down on one of the benches.  (From Beyond  Blood, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, 2014, Blue Denim Press)

Dana does help more a bit later. The whole chapter is not about learning to sail as Fielding and Dana also use the time to find out more about each other until…

Well, I’m not going to say what happens or how this chapter ends.You’ll have to read Beyond Blood to find out. Click on the book cover at the top to find out one of the places the book is available. For now,  I’ll just say that later in the novel, Dana has to use her sailing knowledge to try to save a family member. So, the first sailing episode was not just a respite from all the murder and mayhem, but also served a purpose – showing how Dana learns something about sailing so that when she has to use it in a life-threatening situation, it is not a skill pulled out of air with a quick explanation such as “I (Dana) learned to swim a few years ago” tacked on to it.

That is something else to remember. You may have more leeway in a novel to go off on so-called tangents, but make sure they have something to do with character development and plot – especially in mystery novels.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Fiction Setting in past times

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Some of us write fiction set in past times. That could be from last year back several decades or centuries. My Beyond stories are set in the late 1990s, so many things were different even back then 17 or 18 years ago.For example, technology could be considered part of setting (think wi-fi availability today in cafes, public transit, and just walking along the street). What we take for granted today, may not have been around back in the days of your novel or short story.

One big setting factor is weather. We can all probably figure out that today’s weather is much more extreme in all ways. There are more floods, tornadoes, heavy snowfalls, etc. And so if you are writing in another time period, you have to be aware what is going on in the weather then. And not in general, but on the days your story takes place and the actual location. That requires some research beyond your memory of back then if you were actually living in that time period. Leave your memory of the weather for your feelings about it when it happened and you might be able to use that in your story. You need to do more concrete research.

If you don’t something like the following could happen.

Supposing you are setting your story in August 2011 in Goderich, Ontario, Canada. You have been there many times in the past, but not since 2010. So, you write your story setting it in August 2011 in Goderich as you remember it with its centre of town set up in a square..

Hold it right here. On August 21, 2011 a big tornado hit Goderich, Ontario causing extensive damage to the downtown square and nearby houses. If you have your characters meeting at one of the shops there or even in a chase through the downtown square on that date or just after, but don’t factor in the tornado, oops.

A tornado can add to the suspense in your story, so consider including it.

But do your research first – online with old news stories.And if you don’t know what the weather was like on certain days of certain years, you can check with weather authorities (such as Environment Canada) for historical weather information about dates in the past. You don’t want to have a blizzard in late November in such-and-such year just north of Toronto when the weather was actually mild for the time and it rained the proverbially buckets.

There are many other time-related issues that factor into setting. I’ll cover a few more of them in a future post, but here’s one to think about and research.

Your characters are eating soup that came out of a can and the year is 1921. Did soup or any other foods come in cans in 1921? You need to do your research. And you can take that food area much further to what people actually ate in the your story’s time period and how they prepared and stored food and where and how they ate.

Setting covers much more than geographic location.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Getting the scene right in your story

Cover of Beyond Blood by Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press. Click for link to purchase e-copies

Cover of Beyond Blood by Sharon A. Crawford, published by Blue Denim Press.

When writing fiction it is not only important to make your characters and plot realistic, but you need to do the same with your setting. Especially when you combine the setting with your characters and plot. Especially in rooms. Especially in action scenes in rooms.

Remember, you may have the visual in your mind but the reader is reading words, not watching it on TV. Think of police mystery shows, such as Chicago PD where the police are entering a building in force. The characters don’t know what they will find inside – people or structure, but you can bet the writers and director do. It can mess things up if you have a setting that just doesn’t match up with what the characters are doing.

Let’s take that scene mentioned above. As a fiction author, you need to know if there are stairs inside, where they are, if any of them have defects or squeak, how big the rooms are, and what rooms there are and how many levels. Otherwise you might unintentionally have a scene akin to the Keystone Cops.

In Beyond Blood, I had somewhat tight quarters to play out the climax – a medium-sized yacht. I had to know what would be on board, its arrangement, if my characters would all fit and be able to move around as needed (I solved that one by not having them all in one place at once).

But before I did that I had to get on a yacht, so I did. I got a tour of a somewhat smaller yacht and asked the owner/sailor about the terminology. And I read books on the subject.

There is a certain amount of micro-managing by the author once you get your building rooms straightened out. You need to consider any windows, if they face the sun and at what point of day. Is it dark and rainy outside when your characters are inside? You can’t have a character come in out of pouring rain and when he or she is in the living room or an office have bright sunlight streaming through…unless it suddenly clears up.

Then there is the feasibility of your characters moving around in a room and what they can see while they are in action. For one scene in Beyond Blood, I actually stood up from my computer and tried to re-enact the scene to consider room corners and furniture (my desk substituted for the office desk) to see if it would work.

You can also draw room sketches and if you aren’t somewhat incompetent in Math, do the rooms to scale. No, I don’t do the latter. But I did go around in different areas, different cities and towns with my camera to find the perfect house that would work with the Attic Investigative Agency on the top floor for the fraternal twin PIs – Dana Bowman and Bast Overture. This house had to be at leastt 75 years old, three stories, with two balconies and a turret. I found the house in downtown London, Ontario. I believe it is used for offices now) near a park and snapped away. No, I didn’t go inside. I used my imagination and memories for the inside.

But that’s fodder for another post.

Cheers.

 

Sharon A. Crawford

For something completely different check out when I was interviewed about Beyond Blood and writing on radio station Northumberland 89.7 FM http://bluedenimpress.com/authors/sharon-a-crawford/

All my TV interviews are posted on You Tube. Click on “Video” at the top right of this blog

Check out my website www.samcraw.com for more information about Beyond Blood and my writing workshops. I do update it.

The book cover at the top links to my Amazon author profile and my books. E-copies are also available at my publisher’s website http://www.bluedenimpress.com

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Interview with Fiction Characters By Fictional Character – Part 3

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

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

Writing is a struggle against silence.

          Carlos Fuentes

Bast takes on perhaps the most difficult interview so far – with his seven-year-old nephew David Bowman. David has become psychologically mute because of a traumatic experience in the pre-quel novel Beyond Blood. David appears in the four linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point – “Gone Missing,” “Saving Grace,” “Digging Up the Dirt” and “Road Raging.”

Bast: David, let’s play private eye. Let’s pretend I’m the private investigator and I’m interviewing you. I know…

Dana (who has sneaked into the room and interrupts): You are a PI little brother and David knows this.

Bast: Sis, I’m trying to conduct an interview here. Your turn will come next week.

Dana: Okay then. Let’s see what David thinks about this.

Bast: Fine. David, do you want your mother present during this interview.

David shakes his head “no.”

Bast (smiling): Dana, your son has spoken.

Dana: Okay. (shrugs her shoulders and leaves the room).

Bast: Now David, is it okay if we play PI and I ask you questions.

David nods “yes.”

Bast: Good. Now I know you won’t speak, so I’ll keep most questions to “yes” and “no” answers, but here’s a pen and notepad for you to write your answers on.”

David pushes the pen and pad away and shakes his head “no” vigorously. He picks up his box of crayons, dumps the crayons out on the table, and grabs his sketch pad.

Bast (shrugs): Okay. In “Saving Grace” you kept pushing your mother to find the missing Grace. Was that because of what happened to you last year?

David picks up a red crayon and starts drawing a girl’s face. Then he picks up a black crayon and draws a boy’s face. He colours in the hair yellow. Underneath the girl’s face he prints “G” and underneath the boy’s face he draws  “?” He hands the picture to Bast.

Bast (pointing to the boy’s face in the picture). “Is this you David?”

David snatches the picture from Bast, then picks up a black crayon and starts scribbling on the paper. He hands it back to Bast.

Bast (looking at the picture). I see you have crossed out the “?” and put in a “D.” Okay, how did you know where to find Grace?

David picks up an orange crayon and starts drawing on another sheet of paper. When finished, he hands it to Bast.

Bast (looking at this picture). This looks like a doll.

David nods “yes.”

Bast: Would this be Grace’s Raggedy Anne doll?

David nods “yes” and starts wriggling in his seat.

Bast: So, the doll helped you?

David nods “yes” and then shakes his head “no.”

Bast: Which is it David – yes or no?

David grabs a purple crayon and starts scribbling on another piece of paper. When finished he throws the paper at Bast.

Bast: Hm. I don’t understand David. All these purple lines and circles. What do they represent? I mean.

David points to his head and moves his mouth as if trying to make a sound.

Bast: Okay, David. Let’s move on. Now in “Gone Missing,” at one point you are riding with your mother in her car and you drive to the dock at Snow Lake. You made a dramatic change here from complete silence. You…

David jumps up and starts moving around the room as if disoriented, then moves up to Bast and starts stomping his foot.

Dana (now back in the room). “That’s enough Bast. I don’t think David wants to play your game anymore, do you David?

David just continues his foot stomping. Dana goes over to him, crouches down to his level and puts her arm around him. David wiggles and tries to push her away, but eventually the feet and hands go still and he puts his head on Dana’s chest. Loud sobs are coming from him. Bast walks over to them and gets down on his knees.

Bast: Sorry David.

David looks up from Dana and over to Bast. And winks.

You can read more about David, Dana, Bast, Great Aunt Doris, Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding and the others in the four linked stories which are part of my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point, (Blue Denim Press, 2012. Click on the book at the top and it takes you to my profile – including books reviews – at www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book  go to http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/search/?keywords=Beyond%20the%20Tripping%20Point

 or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy.

Next week: Bast interviews his fraternal twin Dana Bowman.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: