Tag Archives: Sharing Fantasy

Playing with Setting

Writing setting is all about creating a location and making it as real to the reader as possible. Some authors spend a great deal of their exposition on setting, while still others choose to infuse it more gradually throughout their work. No matter what the method, the act of building setting is essential, since it helps to create the very atmosphere and tone that will embrace the readers approaching your work.

This week I flew to visit some of my family. Most of us have been on an airplane at least once in our lives, making it easy to identify several common features: cramped seats, narrow aisles, tiny bathrooms, packaged peanuts or pretzels, miniature drinks, grouchy people, rickety tray tables, and colorful emergency pamphlets. As I sit on the plane, I always try to find some enjoyment in elaborating on these features. I think of it as playing with my setting.

I’ll start with a simple statement: It is 8:40, and I am on an airplane. Then I’ll begin to add some key details.

I am on an 8:40 p.m. flight, wedged uncomfortably into my uneven seat due to the broken spring beneath my left thigh. The plane reeks of stale pretzels and a potential sanitary issue in the nose-end bathroom.

As the flight attendants begin their speech about the procedure should we experience a sudden change in cabin pressure, I add in a few more details.

The air that spews from the vents above is doing nothing but suffocating me with a steady stream of hot air, making it more difficult to breathe against the surrounding stench.

The man next to me sneezes without covering his mouth, and after stealing a quick glance in his direction, I add more to my mental image.

The hum of the jet steadily increases, but not as rapidly as the sound of breathing that pours from the stuffy nose of the man to my right. He squirms in his seat, sneezing repeatedly until I’m forced to peer away. At the same moment, the little girl to my left tugs off her sweater, her sleeve nearly smacking me in the jaw.

Suddenly I realize that the dismal light above is not going to provide much to read by, leaving me little to do but continue my imagined ride. I do, after all, write fiction. Why not make this airplane scene go in a slightly more fantastical direction?

The girl looks up to me, her eyes glowing a light shade of green. She grins, her teeth sharp against her rose-red tongue and her lips pursing together when the man to my right sneezes again. She peers past my shoulder, her eyes slitting narrowly at him as the plane hits some turbulence. It bounces us violently in our seats in a manner that somehow does not seem to affect her.

The man sneezes. The girl licks her lips. Across the aisle, another man stands from his seat, so I add this in too.

Despite the captain’s direction for us to remain in our seats, a lanky man across the aisle stands from his chair, beginning to chat up the flight attendant before he heads toward the nose-end bathroom in a near run.

Then:

A thud sounds from the left of the airplane, as if something hit the plane and bounced repeatedly along its side. A shadow passes over us, the darkness outside creeping in, mimicking the growing smile from the girl in seat 7A. The chill looming over our row makes the sneezer in seat C and me in seat B start to shiver convulsively….

The joy of setting is that it can effectively set the tone for the work to-be. I have  no idea what to do with my airplane vision so far, but when I make a few tweaks and tie all the setting details together (as well as a little characterization and some information to build a scene), here’s what I have:

I buckle my seat belt on the 8:40 p.m. flight, my body pitched at an uncomfortable angle thanks to the broken spring beneath my left thigh. The plane reeks of stale pretzels and a potential sanitary issue in the nose-end bathroom, and the steady stream of hot air from the vent above makes it even more difficult to breathe against the stench. While the hum of the jet steadily increases, so does the ragged breathing that pours from the stuffy-nosed man next to me. He squirms, rocking our seats as he sneezes repeatedly, forcing me to peer away. As I turn, the little girl to my left tugs off her sweater and nearly smacks me in the jaw with her sleeve. She mutters, “Sorry,” before looking up at me, her light green eyes glowing. When she grins, her teeth press sharply against her rose-red tongue. The man to my right sneezes again and the little girl purses her lips together. She peers past my shoulder at him as the plane hits some turbulence and bounces us violently in our seats. She is not affected, her eyes slitting narrowly when the captain directs us to remain in our seats and a lanky man across the aisle stands from his chair. He chats up the flight attendant before running toward the nose-end bathroom at full speed.

A repeated thud sounds from the left of the airplane, as if something hit the plane and bounced along its length until it flew off into the nothingness behind us. Immediately a shadow passes over, the darkness outside creeping in, mimicking the growing smile from the girl in seat 7A. The sneezer in seat C and I start to shiver convulsively…

Though it is most certainly not a finalized scene, the setting aspects already have me thinking of where I could go from here. Playing with setting like this is a good practice to hone in useful details for writing, even if this particular piece never comes to life in a real story. The feel of the plane, and the random acts of the people around me on the plane, are all items that could be stashed in a mental rolodex of story components.

As I’m thinking about this, the lights above the walkway randomly start flickering, causing a gasp from some of the other passengers. I smile, then close my eyes to take a nap before we land…the sound of 7C’s stuffy breathing in my ear.

Happy Friday the 13th, everyone!


This One’s for the Kiddos!

Recently, it came to my attention that several of my students caught wind of my website. I thought this was just a random mention by a few kids, and then I checked my website stats for the day the word spread. As you can see, the results were a little more staggering:

After I saw this, I felt like my life had been written into a Gossip Girl episode for a day, and I decided it was high time to dedicate a post to my awesome kiddos. 🙂

Now, I’m not entirely sure how this happened, but I suppose it could have come about for one of two reasons: genuine enthusiasm for what’s happening on this blog—which is what I’m inclined to believe because, quite frankly, I have some seriously amazing students—or perhaps just a general desire to catch me saying something naughty.

I have heard a few rumors about this idea that would make such a desire understandable. I’m pretty sure the concept of my alleged dirty writing originated last year, when I mentioned in class that I wrote an adult fantasy novel, as in, not young adult fantasy, and somehow this translated into the idea that I write erotica. (Whoopsy! Epic teacher fail moment…)

Sadly, this is not true, but I’m also not going to lie: I write adult fiction, which is to say that within the course of the story, there may be some graphic material (violence, language, sex, overtones, etc.) that may be deemed inappropriate for young adults, just as a TV-MA show might be. In my humble opinion, this sort of reading decision is something teens make everyday, and hopefully this level of reading has occurred with appropriate discretion, parental or otherwise. As a young girl I read far past my age level, but I also knew what was fictional versus appropriate behavior in real life, as I’m going to assume any teen readers have the capacity to do, as well.

So what do I write? I write fantasy, contemporary, and just about anything else that springs into my thick and somewhat pinhead-shaped dome. And since you like to read, I thought it would be fun to know what type of book YOU prefer to curl up with on a lazy afternoon. Adult or young adult, click on your preference below!

Whether you are indeed a student or another reader, young or young-at-heart, thanks for sharing your reading interests back with me and other blog followers. Expect to see more polls and surveys on your interests in the future from time to time, and thank you for participating in this poll!


But What Does Charity Have to Do with Fantasy?

This is the very question I asked myself as I ran at a blazing pace (humor me) on the treadmill yesterday, feeling the urge to write about charity, but also puzzling over how to unify the two concepts.

So I ran, and I ran…and it suddenly hit me as hard as the cramp gnawing at my side: charities are about giving, about caring, and about helping others to reach their goals and dreams. We who have the ability to give, the capacity to share our compassion—if we really make an effort, then we can help those who need our assistance for anything from healing, to resources, to companionship. No matter what the objective, charities provide a clear path toward fulfilling a longing, or a dream—the attainable fantasy of making this world a better place for everyone, not just those who can help themselves.

Saturday night I attended a wonderful charity event for the Ria Foundation, which was founded after the unfortunate passing of a talented young artist named Maria Ann Hsiao, or “Ria.” For the last ten years, the Foundation has been running a program called Art4Kids (http://riafoundation.org/kids.html), bringing art and self-expression to children throughout California and Hawaii and inspiring them to explore their own creativity. As I listened to the presentation about Art4Kids, I thought about how many children could benefit from organizations like this, and also how many children, and people in general, just need a little love and support from others.

My parents are heavily into charity organizations and charity work, and it has rubbed off on me over the years. The reward of helping someone else live the fantasy that we so often take for granted—homes, health, companionship, and food in our bellies—is a pleasure in its own right, and unfortunately, it’s not a topic we often get to discuss with one another.

So, I thought I’d share a few of the organizations that I’ve investigated in the last few years; though there are an infinite number to choose from, these are some of my favorites. I’ve provided an extremely brief description of each, so please be sure to click on the links for more detailed information.

  • Water.org — this organization builds wells and sanitation systems, bringing safe drinking water to communities in Asia, Africa, and Central America.
  • Madre.org — promotes women’s rights and safety in war-torn countries, and supports women’s voices where they remain otherwise unheard.
  • Bestfriends.org — Best Friends Animal Shelter is a no-kill sanctuary in Utah, caring for wild and domestic animals until they are rehabilitated or adopted.
  • Heart.org — The American Heart Association provides tons of research and care for heart diseases. This one is particularly dear to me—several years ago, a close family member was diagnosed with a rare heart condition. She is quite well now, and the organization’s research remains imperative.
  • Dtrf.org — promotes research for a rare and often fatal disease that forms locally aggressive tumors in connective tissues and destroys neighboring tissues—even bones and organs. A close friend of mine has this condition, but she’s had a clean bill of health for about two years thanks to some incredible doctors and the research funded by this group.
  • Africare.org — works to improve the quality of life for people in Africa through sanitation and water services, care and education for HIV/AIDS, and food security for its people.
  • Bbbs.org — Big Brothers/Big Sisters is an experience-based program connecting a “big” brother or sister with a “little” considered in need of company beyond his or her circumstance. I had the pleasure of working with a charming girl for about two years through this program, and we had a fantastic time together every time we met. The time commitment is minimal, but the rewards for both parties are tremendous.

This list is by no means a suggestion, nor is it a very exhaustive one. If you are interested in a charity, do some research to find an organization that fits your heart. The American Institute of Philanthropy gives a great list of top charities based on those that use the majority of their funding for causes and research instead of administrative costs at http://www.charitywatch.org/toprated.html.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to donate or work with a charity, I encourage you to consider it—it is an incredibly satisfying experience, and if every one of us could give even a little, we could share the fantasies and dreams we’ve built for ourselves with so many others around the world.


%d bloggers like this: