Use Places You’ve Lived to Enhance Your Story

image by stokpic

You don’t need to use the actual place, but you could use the memories:
• something you saw (good or bad)
• a specific feeling you had (exhilaration, fear, sadness)
• a general feeling you had (ominous, out of place, homey)
• a person you met (friend, enemy, boyfriend)
• a particular setting within the place (a cabin, school, ship)
• an event (reunion, festival, lost)

List the places then let memories from each location flow. Write them down. Does one fit your work in progress in some way? Would it add flavor to the plot or a character? Humor to your story?

I’ve lived in sixteen places. I’ll pick four as examples of what I’ve learned from them.

Significant Memories from Places I’ve Lived

 

Baltimore, MD – As a preteen, I saw from the family car a wailing, bloody-faced man running alongside a big car, his hands clutching the window rim. The car sped up and the old man fell to the pavement. I felt horror. I was also frustrated that I’d never know the story behind the event. Were the men inside stealing his car? Were they getting rid of him by abandoning him? This memory warned of the frustration readers experience when the author doesn’t tie up loose ends.

Petionville, Haiti – At ages seven to ten, I lived on a mountainside overlooking Port-au-Prince in a gray stucco house with a red metal roof.

image by Efraimstochter

The tropical island was wonderful – fiery orange flamboyant trees, warm temperatures, big lizards, our parrots and donkey, aqua water, hibiscus flowers, international school, the merengue dance.

Haiti was mysterious – paths through the forests to nearby villages; frenzied Mardi Gras celebrators dressed in costumes dancing in our yard; a dead chicken hanging from a tree in the middle of the woods near an extinguished fire; our cook screaming because a Voodoo doll was pinned to her outside door; rats bumping and banging inside our metal roof during a deluge.

Haiti was dangerous – revolution, corrupt election, rise of Papa Doc, Papa Doc’s violent Tonton Macoute thugs. A Haitian looking for the Spanish embassy drove up our road and stopped at our house. Blood covered the seat of his pants. People were dead and wounded in the back of the police van he’d hijacked during an attack on his family.

I’m drawn to tell a fictional story about a little girl who saves an Arab boy whose Father’s jewelry business comes under a Tonton Macoute raid. The time hasn’t been right yet.

image by Sharonang

Norfolk, VA – During a rare snow, my father built me an igloo. After I’d hounded him, I was afraid to go inside when frostbite threatened my fingers and toes. I will never forget the pain from my thawing appendages. I used this experience in Gift of the Magpie.

That same winter, my sister, two friends, and I fell through the ice on a lake. Our wet heavy coats worked against treading water. When we tried to get out, the ice caved. I was so exhausted, I decided to give up and drifted under. I learned about the will to live.

image by Military_Material

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – As a high school teen, I lived on the five-mile-square Naval base. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, my mother, brother, and I were evacuated on the USS Upshur with little in our suitcase. We returned three months later. My three days aboard ship with friends trying to avoid a sergeant and cleaning toilets was an adventure.

The next year, after threats from Castro, the base admiral sealed the pipes from which we received water. We went three days without water until a water tanker arrived. I learned to appreciate water.

Use the events and feelings in places you’ve lived to enrich your stories. Click to tweet.

What place taught you something that you could use in a story?

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Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?

Story Setting Part 1: It’s More Than a Place

image by homar
image by homar

What’s Included in Setting?

 

A story setting is more than the place(s) where the author sets characters. It provides the environment in which your drama unfolds, so establish it early in your story. It’s interactive—creating the mood, giving meaning to the plot, and strengthening the story theme.

umbrella-589164_1280Elements Under the Setting Umbrella

  • Locale (state, neighborhood, island, saw mill, school)
  • Weather (tornados, tsunamis, snow, fog, sand storms)
  • Atmosphere (lighting, humidity, clutter, noise, crowding)
  • Props (candle, perfume, bowie knife, vacuum cleaner, harpoon)
  • Era (Civil War, Information Age, Roaring Twenties, Ancient Greece, Civil Rights Movement)
  • Time (1942, summer, dawn, Christmas, Independence day, February)
  • Culture (social practices, laws, fads, morals & mores, politics)
  • Geography (mountains, plains, marshes, islands, deserts)
  • Plant and animal life (whales, palms, rice paddies, grizzly bears, kangaroos)
  • Population (dense NYC/Hong Kong; small town; deserted island, Indian reservation; military camp)
  • Manmade entities (ports, burial grounds, cities, museums, pyramids)
  • Agriculture (vineyard, ranches, plantations, soil, minerals)
  • Ancestral heritage (unique groups, cuisine, dialect, attitudes, religions)
  • Climate influences (ocean currents, notable winds, latitude, altitude, tropics)
  • Fantasy/Sci-fi (portals, magical/Sci-fi phenomena, future era, topography, climate)

Tips to Write a Setting

 

1. For authenticity, characters must interact with the things surrounding them. The things characters interact with should be meaningful to the story.

2.  Setting can be woven into the story through:

  • image by Wengen (Corcovado Christ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
    image by Wengen (Corcovado Christ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
    known landmarks (Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Alamo)
  • communication devices of the period (smoke signals, black desk telephones, tablets)
  • items characters use (laser gun, plow & mule, data cards)
  • clothing (gingham dress, polyester bikini, sari)
  • music (minuet, country, reggae),
  • popular sayings (swell, groovy, ballistic)
  • rooms (lanai, parlor, veranda)
  • types of buildings (shack, palace, cottage)
  • events (bubonic plague, gold rush, D-day)
  • jobs (chimney sweep, backhoe operator, financial planner)

3. What level of setting details is needed?

  • At one end, familiar settings may need only a few details for a reader to understand the characters’ environment.
  • At the other end, created worlds and settings that are considered a character may need intricate and abundant details (a haunted house as a character).
  • Once the reader understands the setting, detailing elements may seem repetitive, especially for faster paced stories. Occasional references or, more often, using the characters’ interactions with setting elements may be more appropriate.

 

image by pashminu
image by pashminu

4. View the location as if you’re employing a movie camera.

  • First, decide the locations, and the places within locations, that best support your plot, characters, and story mood.
  • Then view the place through your camera lens. This will force you to consider all facets of the place so that you supply, or make more vivid, the features the reader needs in grasping the setting.

5. Mention notable items that readers familiar with the area expect to appear in the setting.

In Part 2, we’ll look at fictional vs. real settings.

Story setting is more than a place; consider this list of the elements. Click to tweet.

What tip do you have to ensure readers understand the story’s setting?

Juxtaposition Boosts Comparisons – Behind the Scene

image by Hans
image by Hans

 

Definition of Juxtaposition 

 

Combining my research: Juxtaposition is a literary technique in which the writer places two story elements side-by-side for the reader to compare and contrast. Elements can be characters, places, concepts, events, actions, or objects. The elements are related but distinct. The comparison can show irony, humor, or sadness. 

Common Examples of Juxtaposition

 

  • All’s fair in love and war.
  • Making a mountain out of a molehill.
  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
image by johnhain
image by johnhain

Examples of Possible Comparisons

 

  • Good and evil
  • Despair and hope
  • Spring and fall
  • Poverty and prosperity

 

 

Examples of Juxtaposition in the Elements

 

Characters

Purpose: Highlight our protagonist’s failures.

Introduce into the story the protagonist’s successful brother, best friend, or colleague.

Places

Purpose: Shape a character’s beliefs about prosperity.

The character is invited to an estate with lovely gardens, opulent buildings, and stone statues. On the way home, he gets lost and ends up in a shantytown. Show how he reacts to each place.

Concepts

Purpose: Show despair in the strong and joy in the weak.

A self-centered, successful prizefighter suddenly becomes a lost child at the deathbed of his frail grandmother. His grandmother, who raised him, pats his hand and praises God that she’ll soon be with the Lord, whole and joyous.

image by ThePixelman
image by ThePixelman

Events

Purpose: Contrast in third world countries suffering during war and peace.

A soldier runs through a village fighting the enemy, his Uzi rat-tat-tatting. In the next scene inside a hut of a nearby village, a nurse missionary ministers to a woman sick with malaria. The sick woman’s two young sons sit cross-legged on the dirt floor, playing a game with stones.

Actions

Purpose: Differentiate between leaders and followers.

At a women’s military boot camp, women are sent on a long run. The women complain. They can’t go any farther. This isn’t training; it’s torture. A woman, a peer among them, jabs a finger at a telephone post ahead and yells, “Come on. You can make it to that post. It’s not that far.” The women stagger on to the post. The same woman points to the next post and shouts the same thing.

Objects

Purpose: Show man’s penchant for rebellion that hurts only man.

On the grass beneath a billboard depicting a man dying due to smoking cigarettes is an accumulation of cigarette butts.

Juxtaposition can support important story comparisons. Click to tweet.

How have you used juxtaposition in your stories?