Archive for the ‘California’ Category

Setting Can Change Everything

My vacation continues in California.  I drove by myself to So. Cal to see some old friends and remembered what it was like to be a Californian.  The whole trip is dripping in sentiment with going over the dreaded “Grapevine” and working my way into Los Angeles traffic.  While some may tense with agitation, I relax with a huge smile.  I love it!

What I realized is the place affects the character.  There was still excitement when I came around the bend and saw the top of the Magic Mountain Tower.  My mind flashed back to when I was young and it was a contest to see the flag on top of the red circle first.  It marked we were almost there.  The instant swarm of butterflies fluttered in my stomach and my back straightened with anticipation to capture the first glimpse of a rollercoaster.

When I got into the twelve lane highway of the 405, I cranked up the KROQ, “owned” my shades, and rocked out like a twenty-two year old.  It continued all day with margaritas at the beach with an old friend and morning coffee near the fire ring at my favorite haunt. 

I have an attitude when I’m in California.  In So. Cal, there is an air of confidence.  A hipness.  (Which sounds super unhip when you say it out loud.)  In my hometown, there is insecurity, the feeling of high school.  Although it can be helpful in writing Young Adult scenes, it doesn’t do much for my self-esteem. 

Setting not only influences the writing of surroundings, it’s a major player in character and plot development.  Donald Maass labels it as a character of its own.  What setting affects you?  Is it a reminder of youth or a romantic date?  I’d love to hear it.  Now I’m going to enjoy the 65-degreed California weather while Oregon gets buried in snow.


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I drove 11 hours with two small children from Oregon to central California today.  The End.  (Just kidding.)  Obviously, I had a lot of time on my hands to think about everything under the sun.  Of course it included how was it possible for every Disney channel star to become a singer?   Until I heard the one thousandth song with heavy distortion covering the voice.  But I digress…

There are so many things to compare when discussing writing and a road trip.  The feeling of traveling forever and only concentrating on the destination.  Waiting for the exact moment where you feel you have arrived.  Or the extreme frustration of being asked a hundred times “Are we there yet?” which is the equivalent in writing to “are you done?” or worse “are you published?”

I chose the poetic words of my son, “I think we’re lost.”  Now, he doesn’t know I have made this trip tens of times and know Hwy 99 or I-5 like the back of my hand.  What he understands was there was an accident on Hwy 99 so I took a hard turn and hauled it over to I-5 to travel the rest of the way.  (Yes, my dad already lectured me on how I should have cut back over in Stockton and would have shaved several miles off the trip, so save your breath.)  Back to my son’s comment.  We’re driving down the barren lands of Interstate 5 where the only land mark is the dairy farm that perfumes the air with the distinctive manure smell.  He looks around and about every ten minutes states “This is the middle of nowhere.”

One time his comment happened to hit when I was thinking about the character of my most recently completed book.  The idea of someone being in the middle of nowhere is usually associated with being lost.  It clicked something in my thought about one of my characters not having a follow-up in the book.  With some more thoughts, I realized they were lost at the end.  I gave them a story, but never left it with one thought or another.  This will greatly alter the climax to give some idea of where the character ended up and help with the scene not feeling incomplete, which was how I left it before.

So this may be a stretch of comparing one thing to another, but I have been tortured by Disney XM for ten hours.  Give me a break.  What was something odd that helped you with a story you couldn’t quite get under your thumb?

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