Category Archives: Setting

Sexy Sense of Place

“The author must know his countryside, whether real or imaginary, like the back of his hand.” Robert Louis Stevenson

When my first editor, the amazing Mary Cash, bought my first book KELLY AND ME, one of the things she said was, “We need more sense of place.”

“How do I do that?” I asked.

“Read,” she said.

And so I did. I found lots of books that painted worlds for me. But the authors I learned the most from for that writing exercise were Bill and Vera Cleaver. They wrote WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM (Newbery winner). All their books (yes, I read them all) were so beautifully detailed that I fell in love. I’m STILL in love with their writing.

A Few Facts about Sense of Place

  1. If well done, setting can become a character (what one reviewer said about KELLY AND ME).
  2. Not just fantasy novels need world building–ALL books do.
  3. If you feel like the book you’re reading is a desert (when it’s not!), that’s because the author has failed in making the world real and visible. The author is your eye.
  4. When your main character talks about place, remember he will speak only about what he notices. YOU have to make him notice what allows the reader to believe they are there.
  5. Use all five sense when you write. At this moment I can hear the baby and, across the street, a lawn edger going. I can feel the cool air blowing in around my feet from the open window. Outside my window there are two trees, one with leaves the color of an almost-ripe lemon. The smells coming from the bathroom? Let’s just say the wintergreen smelly thing ain’t helping a lot. And then, of course, there are the keys under my fingers. All of this is part of my sense of place–of the world I am in right now.
  6. Don’t use all sense at once, like I did above. After you build a place, it’s your job to remind the reader where they are. And I don’t think it’s a bad idea to do that two or three times a page.
  7. The amazing Tim Wynne-Jones gave a great talk when I was at school at VC, about the emotion sense of place can give a book–how it can forecast doom or help readers feel joy. There’s a name for this, and try as I might, I can’t remember what it is. When I do, I’ll add it.


#32 Rewrite your book opening using sense of place.

#32.5 Do what Mary Cask said: Read for setting. How does the writer do it successfully?



Filed under Editors, Exercises, Setting, Voice, writing process

Three Thing Thursday

From Cheryl:


From Me:

Following the excerpts above, write either place or description that breathes life into your story.

Feel free to share.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ann Dee, Exercises, Setting, three thing thursday, Voice

Three Things Thursday

1. I need a new pillow. Mine, I think, has been giving me headaches (sometimes wake up so sick I puke–like this morning). I’ve used several kinds–including expensive ones–but can’t find anything that helps. Suggestions? Please?

2. We are thinking of having a dance/writing activity for charity purposes. We want to do it before the conference ( Anyone have any suggestions for a venue? It needs to be free and we need to charge at least a $10 cover charge.

3. Today, notice sense of place. Really notice it. What do you see, hear, taste, smell, touch?

How do these experiences make you more aware of the environment you are in?

How would you write your experiences in an original way? For example, lots of people have been cold. How do you make being cold your own–original? Not, I was freezing. How would you say that?


Filed under CLW, Exercises, Setting, three thing thursday

Day Three, continued!

I’m doing it! I am! The book is winding to the climax and then end!

I love this part of writing. When I feel the end is near and I love my characters and the sh!t seems to be mostly gone and I am hurrying to the close of something. I love finishing a novel. And the right-before of finishing a novel.

I’m glad I am doing it with you all.

(I am NOT done. I can just see the finish line. This may still take some time.)


Another thing I love? Hemingway’s short story A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.

I read it as a young teen. Loved it as a young teen. Cried over it.

You can read it here:

It’s a nice break, reading this story. See what Hemingway does right (or should I say write?). Maybe you don’t love it. That’s okay. We each find the masterpieces we love. We each have our masterpiece lines, novels, moments.


I’ll be back in a few hours.

PS There are several typos in this copy of the short story

PMS There are too many exclamation points in this post. But, I am very happy.

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Filed under CLW, Exercises, Setting, Writing Marathon, writing process

Three Things Thursday–This Really Happened

Geezo Peezo–

So I went out to get in my car this morning to go to school. Gotta get to class, I thought. Because I have a lot of great students, that’s why.

As soon as I started down the driveway, the car was sliding. Even with the emergency brake. And me in first gear.
At the bottom of the driveway is a VERY busy road and a ditch.
Being a Southerner, I turned into a snowbank.
Then, being a dedicated teacher (and a Southerner), I tried to get to school again. The car turned 180 degrees, pointing me back home.
Being superstitious, I took that as an omen that I should go home. I had to hike–in the snow because the driveway was so icy–back up to the house. I felt like a pioneer with really good shoes.
Now my lungs hurt.
This is very sad.

#1–Using sense of place, rewrite my absolutely true story above, making the reader feel like she is making that hike (and having an almost near-death experience). Don’t forget all the senses. And please make me pretty and thirty pounds lighter than I am in true life.

Last night, I was sound asleep when I heard this strange noise.
What in the heck? I thought. I wasn’t skeered at first.
I threw back the covers, and went searching for the sound, that was still going on.
Into the first bathroom. Nothing. The second. Yes. There it was. THE SHOWER WAS RUNNING.
RUNNING, everyone. I’m not kidding.
I pushed the knob to see if it was pulled on and it wasn’t. WEIRD.

#2– Using emotion, rewrite my absolutely true story above, making the reader wonder if there is a ghost in my house. Use a little sense of place. And please make my hair beautiful, flowing tresses of blonde something something.

Ann Dee and I are of thinking of MAYBE starting a new blog–to go with this one, of course–that will follow a novel being written–from start to finish. It will include writing exercises, suggestions for your own work and will show what we are doing to come up with an idea, write it and maybe even sell it.

#3–Would you read that blog? Why or why not? Please make Ann Dee pregnant with twins when you answer this. One must be a beautiful little boy. The other a little girl that she will name Carol Jewel Caitlynne Kyra.

See you tomorrow for check in day.
Be careful out there.


Filed under Character, Exercises, Setting


I am going to attempt to cover a few of the topics I mentioned last week. It seems my energy is dwindling of late so if I go off on a tangent or I don’t make sense, be kind.

#1: Steel Cut Oats. No one thought i was serious about this but I was. You guys. They are so good. So so good. I am a lover of rice pudding and tapioca pudding and anything pudding-y and this method I’m about to share makes your breakfast experience as close as you can get to creamy dessert without actually being a dessert (I should be a food blogger). It’s not that hard but it takes a long time. What you do is make the oats risotto style. This means a lot of stirring and letting the oats absorb the liquid. Here are the steps:

  1.  toast two cups of steel cut oats in a pan. Just turn on the heat and stir them around until they get a little brown.
  2. Add a 15 oz can of coconut milk.
  3. Stir.
  4. Keep stirring.
  5. Stir and stir and stir.
  6. Add two cups of water.
  7. Stir.
  8. Stir.
  9. Stir.
  10. Add two more cups of water.
  11. Stir. etc. etc. You get the idea. It’s about six cups of liquid total and I’m sorry to say it takes like 20-30 minutes but if you’re patient, oh my goodness, you won’t be sorry. Especially if you top it with real maple syrup, some bananas and never cream. Because who does that? Not us. We’re trying to reduce. Nuts would be good too.

2. Tom Cruise’s Underwear: No one said they wanted to hear about this but I want to talk about it, so sorry.

The other night Cam and I finally got a babysitter to do our civic duty and see Lincoln. Or Les Mis. Unfortunately, both were sold out so we saw Jack Reacher which is basically the same plot as Les Mis so we were good. Anyway, the point is Tom Cruise, bless his heart, takes off his shirt in the middle of the movie and I was like ewwww, why is he doing that? Why does he want to do that? He also gave a lot of unnecessary sultry looks and I thought this is sad. This is really really sad.

The next morning, to my surprise (and delight?), Top Gun was playing at my local gym cardio theater. I always have to hide in the cardio theater so people don’t stare at my belly. Or my incredibly toned legs. Or my silky hair. Anyway, it was VERY interesting to see old Tom Cruise vs. Young Tom Cruise. It was interesting too how he gave many unnecessary sultry looks even back in the old days though they weren’t so annoying.

This is getting long. I’m trying to get to the scene that really blew me away. I will call it the Tom Cruise Underwear scene. This scene happens SPOILER!!! IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN TOP GUN, READ NO FURTHER THOUGH WHO HAS NOT SEEN TOP GUN? WHO? AND HOW DID YOU ESCAPE IT? THEN I REALIZE PROBABLY MOST PEOPLE UNDER THIRTY HAVE NOT SEEN TOP GUN AND I AM SO OLD BUT IN ANY CASE SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER right after Tom’s best friend and flight partner Goose dies in a plane crash. Tom Cruise, we’ll call him Maverick, is devastated. We see this in many scenes. His aviator glasses cannot hide the pain.

One particular poignant scene of pain is in the locker room when Mav is looking at himself in the mirror in anger. He also happens to be in his huge white tightie whities.


And not in a good way. His superior officer comes in and starts telling him to suck it up. Get over it. Poor Mav, he is dealing with so much emotion and it’s not that easy! I can’t just suck it up. And  he’s standing there in really hideous underwear.

Now I make it a point as I watch all these movies, endless movies for 30-40 minutes each day (please no more Mr. Popper’s Penguins), to try to think about the plot, the characters, the development, all of it,  from a story-telling perspective otherwise this is a huge waste of my exercising time. With this one, I had to ask myself, why the locker room? Why the huge underwear?

I discussed this with Cam because I could not figure it out on my own.

I said: Why would they put him in those underwear? It was not attractive.

He said: Maybe it was accurate. Maybe that’s what top gun pilots wear. Military  issue.

I said: What? Really?

He said: I don’t know. Maybe.

And maybe. Maybe the writers did research and found the exact underwear worn by those pilots and got Tom Cruise in them. Fine.

But why have him grieving in there? In the locker room?

And Cam said: Maybe to show his vulnerability.

And I said: What?

And he said: he’s all alone. He’s naked emotionally and physically.

And I said:

And he said:

And I finally said: But it’s so gross. I do not want to look at that.

And he said: Maybe Mav doesn’t want you looking at him either. Really, what’s the goal of the scene?

Excellent question.

What is the goal of each scene? As writers we have to ask ourselves this very question over and over and over again. Why this scene, at this time? Why these images with this dialogue? Why these characters in this setting? Why huge white underwear during times of heartache and wo?

This is so deep. So so deep.

Anyway, I’d appreciate anyone’s thoughts. It’s important.

Next Week I’ll try to cover my underwear and maybe the Bachelor? Which I don’t watch? I’m still deciding.


Filed under Family, Imagery, Life, Recipes, Setting