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Wednesday Writing Prompt: The Power of Place by Rochelle Melander

As a reader, I often get bored by long descriptions of  place. After pages of flowery language about the shape of the topography or the decorative style of a house, I will scream at my book: enough already!

Still, in the best novels, the setting supports the story in an integral way. When I recall favorite books, the homes and lands that the characters inhabit are as real to me as my own history of place. In my memory, I have been to Thornfield and had tea with Mrs. Fairfax (Jane Eyre). I have sat at the Murray kitchen table in the middle of the night, eating sandwiches and drinking hot chocolate while the thunder rumbled outside (A Wrinkle in Time). I have even traveled through the desert with Father Jean Marie Latour (Death Comes for the Archbishop). As a writer, I hope to create the same vivid experience of place that I have had with these novels. But how?

1. Pay attention to how your favorite authors convey setting. What do they do that works? What do they do that does not work for you? How does their description support the story?

2. Pay attention to your own collection of places. How has setting influenced your life? Did the topography of your hometown shape your values or attitudes? How about the architecture or interior design of your home? Think about the other places you hang out—your synagogue or church, the local park, or the neighborhood coffee shop. How do these places shape the story of your life?

3. Practice. Take one of the settings you collected above and write about it. Think about how your setting might influence a story. Will it function as a character, something that other characters interact with? Or will your setting be a plot point—a place the propels the story forward? Perhaps your setting will set the mood of the whole story, letting your reader feel the elation, anxiety, or sadness of the characters and their place.

Happy Writing!

(PS The above photo comes from one of  my favorite places, the beach on Coronado Island in California.)


2 Responses

  1. Beth Hoffmann

    Freshman initiation included painting the “A” on the west side of the mountain to the east of town. My Letter to the Editor of the Alamogordo Daily News, in protest of the practice after the contents of the paint burned a friend, evoked a number of negative comments.
    When I spotted the “Sleeping Lady” in the mountains south of town, I rejoiced that the journey home was almost complete. One day I looked at Sleeping Lady from a more easterly point and was dismayed that the image wasn’t a single rock of interesting contours. More than one mountain top contributed to that landmark. “It all depends on how you look at things” took on new meaning the day I discovered the importance of the viewer’s location formation’s appearance.
    Daddy’s coworker returned from a business trip, and I heard his wife ask if he were glad to be back. He agreed that Alamogordo looked good, “even the dingy Heights Addition” on the slope on the southeast side of town.
    With these less than joyous impressions of the mountains, I embrace the NRSV’s period and question mark punctuation of Psalm 121:1,
    “I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    from whence will my help come?”
    The KJV’s comma and period punctuation can give a different slant,
    “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,
    from whence cometh my help.”
    The assertion that follows in the King James,
    “My help cometh from the LORD, {I can’t even paste in small caps 🙁 !}
    which made heaven and earth.”
    is similar to the NRSV affirmation,
    “My help comes from the LORD,
    who made heaven and earth.”
    It’s the mountain’s Maker, not the mountain, that is my source of strength and courage.
    Three negative memories don’t overcome the Bible’s declaration in Psalm 24:1,
    “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it,”
    including mountains that are beautiful creations.

  2. Anxiously,I stepped into the old,forlorn bulinidg,not knowing what dangers await me.BANG!The door shut.Mysteriously,the house looked in a good state even though this dreaded bulinidg has been here for 1000 s of years.Suddenly,all the lights went out .,I looked down,my knees fell to the ground,how was I ever going to escape?CRACK!The floor cracked open creating a spiral shaped staircase.Rapidly,not thinking about where I’d end up,I darted down the staircase.Strangely,there was a dead end,but I couldn’t stop,321 CRASH I’m dead;for now!

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