Sunday, August 31, 2014

Setting, Landscape and Atmosphere

Setting - where the story takes place, how characters respond to their surroundings, the sights, sounds and smells that connect the reader to the written word.  This is the building site of the writer's craft.
Setting adds color to the story, affects characters, adds authenticity to the narrative and paints pictures in the imagination of readers.--Nancy Lamb, The Art and Craft of Story Telling.
Settings aren't just backdrops.  Just by where you have the action happening will tell a lot about the action itself and the people involved.--Ansen Dibell, Plot.
Setting grounds your writing in the reality of place and depicts the theme of your story through powerful metaphor. Without setting, characters are simply there, in a vacuum, with no reason to act and most importantly, no reason to care. Without a place there is no story.--Nina Munteanu, scribophile.
Landscape - the broad vista.
On the surface, it would appear that landscape and setting are the same creatures, identical twins given different names just to confuse the beginning writer. This, however, would not be the truth since setting is where a story takes place--including where each scene takes place--while landscape is much broader than that . . .  Landscape in writing implies much the same as that which is implied by the word when it's used to refer to a location in a country: It is the broad vista into which the writer actually places the individual settings of the novel, sort of like the canvas or other medium onto which a painter has decided to daub color.
You need to think about the landscape of your book because if you're able to make the landscape of place real, you can make the land itself real, which gives you a leg up on making the entire novel real for the reader.
Atmosphere - tone and attitude.
Sometimes referring to subject matter, sometimes to technique.  Part of the atmosphere of a scene or story is its setting, which includes the locale, period, weather, and time of day. Part of the atmosphere is its 'tone,' and attitude taken by the narrative voice that can be described, not in terms of time and place, but as a quality--sinister, facetious, formal, solemn, wry, and so on . . . As we need to know a character's gender, race, and age, we need to know in what atmosphere she or he operates to understand the significance of the action.--Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction, a Guide to Narrative Craft.
Setting, landscape, atmosphere are separate entities but connected. The first puts you in the action. The second contains the story's broader vista. The third enables the characters to breathe.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Great Betrayals

The following is an excerpt from The New York Times' opinion page dated Sunday, October 6, 2013.  I quote from Anna Fels, a psychiatrist and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical School:

As a psychiatrist, I can tell you that it's often a painstaking process to reconstruct a coherent personal history piece by piece--one that acknowledges the deception while reaffirming the actual life experience. Yet it's work that needs to be done. Moving forward in life is hard or even, at times, impossible, without owning a narrative of one's past. Isak Dinesen has been quoted as saying "all sorrows can be born if you put them in a story or tell a story about them." Perhaps robbing someone of his or her story is the greatest betrayal of all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Linear Vs Spatial Narrative

Second part of Kim Barnes' handout at the July 2014 Fishtrap writing conference in Oregon:

"There are SO many ways to tell stories, but every story is, in its way, an argument. First, the story must argue for its own validity--its right to exist. That requires recognition on the part of the reader/audience of some melodic engagement--some 'base line' that we recognize as common to our narratival experience. The basic linear narrative is kind of like a number system or syntax or composition: 1-10, subject-verb-object, five-paragraph essay. It's the foundation on which everything is built and/or interpreted.

The next argument is that, in the absence of the linear 'melody,' something else (also recognizable and held in common) must come in to take its place. And that's the challenge for the writer/composer/artist/dancer. What is that 'something'?  Whatever it is, it must also be observable and have progression, movement, and pattern, with an inherent logic that we can follow, or learn to follow--be taught by the story to follow. If you can define/delineate that OTHER SOMETHING that takes the place of the 'melody' of linear narrative, you'll have an argument for a story that is outside of convention. But, no matter what, I believe it's all either STRUCTURE or ANTI-STRUCTURE that we recognize. Outside/between is chaos without chaos theory (because, of course, chaos as defined by theory is, alas, inherently linear and structured and observed and articulated via a rubric that is absolutely defined).

Giving yourself over to the simple narrative, the archetypal progression, is a kind of submission to the laws of the universe, in some ways. To EXIST is to abide by linear laws; to LIVE is to exist inside the spatial, and story must bring those two experiences together in a horizontal/vertical way. In my mind, this is the role of all art. But vertical movement expands, interrupts, deepens, slows, adds texture and space to an otherwise linear narrative. It's in the vertical movement that the 'why'--rather than the 'what'--of the story exists."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Vertical Vs Horizontal Movement in Narrative

The following is an handout excerpt from literary writer and Professor of English at the University of Idaho, Kim Barnes. I met her at the Fishtrap writing conference in July 2014 where she taught:

"Vertical movement is what gives a narrative depth, texture, tension and resonance.  It interrupts the forward, chronological pace of a story or essay (action--what happened) and replaces simple linear movement with spatial complexity (thought--the why of the story). It represents the act of imagination--what propels us into the imaginative leap. There are many ways to achieve vertical movement, including:

1) Backstory (part of plot/action--more of an interruption of horizontal chronology than vertical movement but provides spatial texture)
2) Associative memory (part of thought)
3) Intellectual contemplation and query
4) Detailed, concrete description of characters, objects, setting, landscape
5) Figurative language, including similes (like, as) and metaphors
6) Lyrical "flights" (extended poetic contemplation)
7) Inclusion of outside information and research
8) Appropriate and intentional intrusion of the narrator

As you work toward vertical movement in your writing, read essays and stories by  authors whose work you admire. Pay attention to places where the author is employing vertical movement. You will find that most successful literary prose is made up of a majority of spatial rather than linear telling. Remember that horizontal writing suggests what, vertical writing suggests why. It is this contribution of action and thought that defines our best stories."   

More tomorrow . . .

Progress On My Second Novel

The main problem in my second novel is drawing out the female protagonist. She is 21, admitted to a psych ward of a hospital after a suicide...