Spark a Story with the Setting Exercises in The Rural Setting Thesaurus

Book covers for The Urban Setting Thesaurus and The Rural Setting Thesaurus

Book covers for The Urban Setting Thesaurus and The Rural Setting ThesaurusAngela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi do it again! Introducing The Rural Setting Thesaurus!

Disclosure: I received a review copy of The Urban Setting Thesaurus in exchange for an honest review.

I also bought a copy of The Rural Setting Thesaurus because it has GOOD STUFF for #kidlit.

You know, SHINY settings, like Backyard, Basement, Birthday Party, Child’s Bedroom, Halloween Party, Outhouse, and *cough* Secret Passageway, Abandoned Mine, Ancient Ruins. Did I mention Secret Passageway? There’s also a WIDE variety of school settings.

You might think having a list to choose from would make everyone’s stories the same. But I’ve noticed that a list frees up my mind to play. 

The best thing about Angela Ackerman’s and Becca Puglisi’s books? They make writing more FUN!

And they make writing more productive. Their power writing tools help you write better, faster, stronger stories with less effort. What’s not to like?

Today I want to talk about the deceptively simple power tool called “Setting Exercises” that is in both Thesaurus books.

A few months ago, I went into a Korean grocery store before a writing meet-up. Just for fun, I filled in the Setting Exercise tool when I got to the café. I didn’t have high hopes. I was really just going through the motions to see how/if it would work. Here are my thoughts and my unexpected results.

Feeling brave? Try out this new Setting Exercise tool. We can do it side-by-side. Hey, it’s Friday–what have you got to lose? I’ll share my results here. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

[Note: the actual tool has more tips than my shortened version here.]

Choose a place and list two sensory details for each of the five senses.

SIGHT: electric lights, colorful packaging, orange/white/red. Long cases, cash registers, lines, colors of veggies: green leaves, purple eggplant, peppers

SMELL: soap, fish, rice bags? green leaves–basil? mint? lemongrass?

SOUND: Ding of register scanner, hum of refrigerators. Korean? Voices. Words I don’t understand.

TEXTURE: crinkly packages. Hard frozen fish, tofu in buckets of water, shrink-wrapped octopus?

TASTE: toasted sesame

This was more interesting than I thought. I don’t do well with lists for character. But will it get me a story? How’d you do?

Write a paragraph through the eyes of a character who has never visited this place before. Weave in quality of light, time of day, season and use at least 3 of the 5 senses from your list. Try to show us who the character is and what he or she feels.

A little boy named Chi-won asks for something at the butcher counter. Ignored because too small, using the wrong word. Wilful lack of respect: I am stronger than you so I can do what I want and no one will stop me. Big knives and muscles in arms slamming knife through fish. Put more fish in on purpose so it will be more expensive. Sloppy packing up shows no respect for food or for child. Chi-won thinks: Too embarrassing to ask for some to be put back. Counts money. Not enough. Oh no! Chi-won sneaks out of store without paying.

Huh. Well that isn’t a paragraph of a story, but it sure looks like a hero and an antagonist. This might work even though I didn’t follow directions. Only took five minutes. What did you get?

Rewrite, using foreshadowing. Something bad is going to happen. Concentrate on building subtle mood of unease or hone in on a detail that does not fit.

Now what? When Chi-won got home, he had to give the change to his sick grandmother. If he gives all the money back, he’ll have to confess that he stole the fish. Sneaks into room and takes money out of piggy bank for the “change.”

The handy list of details I made for this setting will make this easy to do when I’m actually drafting. If I run out, there are buckets more in The Urban Setting Thesaurus and The Rural Setting Thesaurus.

Time to ramp up the tension. Rewrite to show character interact with setting as he flees, fights or hides.

Grandmother needs something else from the butcher and sends him back again. Oh no! Can’t go in there again! Goes to dirty-looking butcher shop six streets away. Buys fish there even though it smells funny in there. They cheat on the change and the fish smells. Has to keep grandmother from sending him shopping any more. Tells her he’s sick. Grandmother cooks him toasted sesame and special food but he feels guiltier. Friend at school invites for playdate. So excited until he finds out it’s the son of the first store owner. Oh no!

This story is developing right under my eyes! I’m definitely trying this tool again. I added it to my Novel Spare Parts file and put my “results” in my Setting ideas folder. I really liked the way this exercise focuses on emotions and gives me fresh ways to reveal them.

Did this tool spark a story for you? If not, try another. The Rural Setting Thesaurus includes a Setting Planner. The Urban Setting Thesaurus includes an Emotional Value and Triggers Tool. Both books include the Setting Exercise above.

Angela Ackerman gave us generous permission to share them here. You can also find them at Tools for Writers:

Setting-Planner

Tool_Emotional-Value_and_Triggers is a bit more complicated, according to Angela Ackerman. There’s a filled-out sample in the Appendix of The Urban Setting Thesaurus.

Warning: If you’re a tool person like me, I recommend limiting yourself. Don’t fall into Writers’ Home Depot and forget to come home to your manuscript.

Challenge: If you’re not a tool person, I encourage you to give one of these a try. Don’t force it. But how great would it be if you found a new way to spark your imagination?

You can find The Rural Settings Thesaurus on:

Goodreads

Kobo
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

More for you on The Winged Pen: We went a little nuts about The Emotion Thesaurus, The Negative Trait Thesaurus and The Positive Trait Thesaurus and the magical Reverse Backstory Tool in earlier posts on the Winged Pen. And Rebecca J. Allen has a new post on The Urban Setting Thesaurus here.

LAUREL DEphoto of Laurel DecherCHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for getting lost, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. You can read THE WOUNDED BOOK, her adventure story for young readers on Wattpad. Or find her on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! 🙂 Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.

Wait, there’s MORE! Rebecca J. Allen has more about The Urban Setting Thesaurus here on the Winged Pen. Over to Rebecca:

Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.

 

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Tame Your Revision: 7 Tips to Finish Your Novel Before Your Battery Dies

Revising a novel is a form of bookkeeping. So many moving parts!! How do you keep from losing your mind?

Never fear, writer friends!

The Winged Pen is here!

Ta daaaa!

Give your revision Wings: Download the Tame Your Revision Infographic here.

INVENTORY

  1. Make a scene list.
  2. Timeline
  3. Map of Major Scenes
  4. Draw, Doodle, Diagram, Index Card, Cut up Manuscript, Synopsis, Query Letter, Colored Markers.

SLICE AND LABEL

  1. Duplicate all the scenes you want to revise. (#protip: Scrivener)
  2. Cut up into topics and label in Scrivener’s Binder. (“castle burns down” “tea party” “transition to vineyard”)
  3. Put like things together.
  4. Draft connections.

THROW STUFF OUT

  1. Duplicate all the files you want to revise. (If you didn’t already.)
  2. Delete everything that isn’t true.
  3. Cut stuff you don’t want. (Darlings, throat clearing, engine starting, letting characters off the hook.)
  4. Can you see?

FEEDBACK FOLDER

  1. Create feedback folders. (synopsis, draft, query, pitch) (#protip: Scrivener)
  2. Label files (reader/chapters/date. Paste in comments from e-mails.
  3. Add a status in Scrivener for “send to crit partners”, “to do”, “done”.

SORT BY SIZE

  1. Read Rachel Aaron’s 2K to 10K: How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love.
  2. Make a list ranked by size of mess.
  3. Do the big stuff first.

CYCLE

  1. Go back a chapter. What did you promise the reader?
  2. Deliver it.
  3. Go forward a chapter. What did you deliver that needs to be set-up?
  4. Set it up.

DESPERATE MEASURES

  1. Find the question first. (See INVENTORY)
  2. Let subconscious work.
    (walks, water, sleep, music, whatever* works!)

*Dark chocolate Lindt truffles.

Happy revising! May your batteries and your Scrivener project targets always shine green!

Need that infographic link again? Here it is:

Give your revision Wings: Download the Tame Your Revision Infographic here.

photo of Laurel DecherLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for getting lost, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. You can read THE WOUNDED BOOK, her adventure story for young readers on Wattpad. Or find her on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! 🙂 Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.

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10 Great Books for the Young Readers on Your List

Here are ten books for Middle Grade readers (9 to 12) I enjoyed reading this year. Maybe you’ll find something for the special readers on your holiday gift list.51s7thphe8l-_ac_us240_ql65_

Nancy Cavanaugh’s THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET is the story of a lonely girl with a gift for auto mechanics, her tree-hugging granola-head father, and how she finds real friends.

89716Gennifer Choldenko’s AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS is the story of a boy whose family moves to the famous prison island, Alcatraz, and the warden’s daughter’s money-making schemes and an unlikely friendship between a girl with a leaning towards autism and the world’s most famous criminal. For more about this book, listen to the Book Club for Kids podcast.

8112318Wendy Maas’ THE CANDYMAKERS was recommended to me by my youngest a year or so ago. This story of a candymaking competition is told by each contestant in turn. Their stories don’t always agree. And that’s what makes the mystery.

 

7793985Shutta Crum’s THOMAS AND THE DRAGON QUEEN starts off like a classic quest of a very young wannabe knight. The tone is gentle and warm and you might be mistaken by the cover into thinking this is a book for younger middle grade readers only. There’s a really nice twist as a reward.

SPOILER ALERT: If you have a sensitive reader, check out the battle scene yourself first. The story is worth it.

10508431Jessica Day George’s TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE is a warm book about a family and the castle that loves them. I noticed that the current cover on Amazon makes it look much “girlier” than it is. Celie is a princess, but she’s also a mapmaker who saves the day. This is the first book in a series.

SPOILER ALERT: Sensitive readers may be concerned that the story will get too dark after Chapter 3, but the book keeps it’s younger middle grade tone, so take courage and read on! 🙂

12969596Caitlen Rubino-Bradway’s ORDINARY MAGIC is a bit like Harry Potter upside down because it’s the ordinary kids who are sent away to school, not the magical ones.

SPOILER ALERT: Sensitive readers might not be crazy about the goblins.

 

22402972Lynda Mulally Hunt’s FISH IN A TREE was one of my absolute favorite books this year. Artistic Ally has a secret worry but her terrific teacher, Mr. Daniels, gives her hope. This is a heart-warming story about making friends, finding your place in your class, and finding out what it means to be smart.

28110852Kelly Barnhill’s THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON is a story for readers who like to fall completely into a story. The world feels so rich and the relationships between the family members are so warm. Magical.

SPOILER ALERT: There’s a scene with paper birds that might be challenging for sensitive readers.

19500357Lynne Rae Perkins’ NUTS TO YOU stars a cast of squirrels that talk exactly the way you would expect squirrels to talk. They’re worried about the forest and they’ve got a bit of attitude. Fun!

 

 

17731927Ally Condie’s SUMMERLOST is as beautiful as its cover. A story about overcoming grief that’s focused on hope and a Shakespeare summer festival and a new special friend.

Read more about SUMMERLOST in my Goodreads review.

 

Want even more? Download The Winged Pen’s 2016 List of Great Book Gifts for Classroom Libraries here.

These are the same books we’ve been sharing on Twitter during December–– all on one list for your shopping convenience.

Did you find something to try? Or do you have other suggestions for middle grade readers? Feel free to comment below.

The Winged Pen is taking a break for the holidays and will return early 2017 with an exciting new development. See you then!

 

IMG_4373HighResHeadshotLDLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for getting lost, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. You can read THE WOUNDED BOOK, her adventure story for young readers on Wattpad. Or find her on Twitter and her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! 🙂 Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.

 

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8 on Eight Contest Window is Now Open!

eight on eight 2Fellow writers! The 8 on Eight contest window is OPEN!fireworks-1759_640

 

Q: I must have missed the announcement. What is 8 on Eight? 

A monthly contest that provides one lucky kidlit writer with feedback on their opening eight lines! As part of our ongoing mission to support writers, we’ll give a PB, CB, MG, or YA writer feedback on their work from at least 8 of The Winged Pen’s contributors.

Q: Sounds exciting! How do I enter?

To enter, simply comment at the bottom of this post! At 8pm (EST) on the last day of November, one winner will be randomly drawn from the Triwizard Cup. The winner will be notified and given 24 hours to submit his or her opening eight lines. On the eighth of the month, the winner’s eight lines, along with the title and genre of the work, will be posted to our blog with feedback from at least 8 of our members. Still have questions? See our 8 on Eight page for additional details.

Remember, the contest window is only open until 8pm EST on December 1st, so don’t wait––enter now!

Best of luck! (And please help spread the word!)

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8 on Eight Feedback for November Winner: Jill Andrew’s INDIGO WAVES

eight on eight 2Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s 8 on Eight contest! Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.

If your name wasn’t drawn from the Triwizard cup this time around, keep an eye out for when our next contest window opens at 8 PM on November 30th. Below, we’ve posted the first 8 lines from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least eight of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

p1050665 INDIGO WAVES by Jill Andrews

Genre: Young Adult (Contemporary Sci-fi)

 

Freedom, I decided, tastes like salt water. Using a plastic beach shovel for a paddle, I stroked away from my island prison, toward the Gulf Coast in my tiny boat, although calling my contraption a boat may have been a stretch. Twelve detergent bottles, acquired from the school laundry department, were strung together to form a loose circle. A large rainslicker, attached to the ropes with bungees, offered a kind of floating nest in the center.

I paddled until my arms shook and my muscles burned from the effort. The gentle swells that had lapped against the beach were just high enough to make seeing me from the shore difficult. As I paddled further away from the island and the storm clouds moved in, the swells intensified to a relentless four-to-six-foot ascent, followed each time by a stomach churning plunge.

Gripping the plastic shovel against my chest with one hand, I clung to the flimsy rope with the other.

Julie Artz: I love that first line! You’ve provided some great details about the MC’s home-made escape boat, which draws the reader right in to this adventure story. That said, I want a little bit more in this opening about the stakes–what is MC fleeing, and what will happen if s/he is caught by the people she’s trying to escape? That sense of fear/danger will up the tension in the opening and, when combined with the great details you already have, will make this story shine.

Michelle Leonard: Fantastic opening that pulls me in immediately. You’ve included many lovely details, but I’d like just another word or two here and there so I can understand how worried I should be for the MC and how bad the MC’s experience has been in the prison (no long backstory, just a few well-placed adjectives). A few more questions that came up as I read: Is the rainslicker truly a nest or a shade? Is this most likely going to be a short journey. Again, a few simple words will make this all clear and help us understand the stakes. Nice work! I’m very intrigued. Best of luck and stay in touch with us to let us know how it goes.

Gita: Your opening really drew me in—I would certainly keep reading to find out what’s happening and why! I second (third?) what Julie and Michelle said: I’d love some emotional underpinning for the main character here. It doesn’t need to be wordy, but it needs to be there. Also, I’m wondering if could make some of your words count even more. For example, the third sentence is a passive construction. By choosing that construction you miss opportunities to reveal some backstory and show us something about the main character. Who tied the detergent bottles together? Was it the MC? If so, “I’d tied the detergent bottles together” shows us more than “were tied.” Likewise, “acquired” doesn’t tell us much. Were the bottles “stolen,” “snitched,” “scavenged,” “pawned,” “liberated” or something else entirely?

A minor formatting suggestion: your first line is so terrific I’d think about setting it off apart from the rest of the paragraph. Good luck with your writing!

Jessica: This is a very intriguing opening! By way of feedback, I’ll say that I was slightly confused in the opening paragraph. When I read that the MC was paddling away from an island prison, I took this quite literally. But then when I read about the school laundry department, I wasn’t sure if the MC was really in some type of prison or perhaps at some type of remote boarding school that made the MC feel imprisoned (I’m inclined to think the latter since I’m not sure if there would be a school in a prison, but I’m not certain). Good luck with this story!

Richelle: Great opening line! I was immediately intrigued. I’m with Jessica in being a bit confused about whether the prison was literal or metaphorical, and details like the plastic beach shovel and the mention of the school made me lean to the metaphorical. I also agree that some notion of the stakes would be helpful — even when the storm rolled in, I didn’t get a sense of urgency. It seemed more like an inconvenience than a life-or-death adversary. Had your MC been tracking the storm before he/she left? What about pursuers? Are there any? Are there sharks or other threats from the water? Has she left anything or anyone behind that colors her journey with regret? Or is she just anxious to get away? That first line is so evocative of what she’s feeling, but the rest of the opening takes us out of her state of mind and into her physical state. I wonder if you could pin the description of the raft and the journey more closely to her emotional journey, if that might make everything else pop as much as the first line does?

Halli:  I agree with everyone about your first line. It is definitely one of my favorites! Your writing is very nice, it flows well, and your descriptions are well done. I could see enhancing it with word choices, as I think Gita mentioned. I am on the same page with everyone above when they say that they are missing who your character is. Just a few words or sentences about who he/she is fleeing, a brief hint as to why, and then the emotions that go along with those revelations. Should we be afraid for the character? Cheer he/she on? And as the journey goes on, is there terror/anxiety about the approaching storm and swells? Your opening is intriguing! Good luck with this.

Rebecca: This sounds like the start to an intriguing story. I love the first line. It grounds us in your character’s motivation. I can also see from the way you’ve described the raft that she’s no limp protagonist, ready to take on the sea and a storm for what she wants, freedom.

I might like more emotion in the beginning. How does she feel about being aboard the makeshift raft? I get that she’s tired, but wouldn’t she be nervous if not outright frightened to be on the sea with this dodgy raft? I also feel like a tighter focus on her perspective would make the situation even more tense. You mention the view of her from shore. But what about her view? She’s not on shore so I’m not sure I buy that they can’t see her. I’d buy something along the lines of, “I couldn’t see the shoreline over the swells. Hopefully that meant they couldn’t see me.” Also, as the waves start reaching four feet…that’s really big in the type of raft she’s in. Can you “zoom in?” I like the “stomach churning plunge” and I’d like even more. What’s the situation of the raft – e.g. is it holding together or looking like the next wave might pull it apart? And how does she feel going up the swell, then crashing back down. It’s such a great visual, I’d really like to see it. It would naturally lead into more thoughts from her on why freedom is so important to her that it’s worth this risk. Of course all that would take you more than 8 lines. *face palm* But would hook the reader even more, I think.

Thinking bigger picture, I wonder if this is the right place to start. From reading this bit, I’d love to see our protagonist sneaking around to steal the Clorox bottles or other supplies. Or getting a glimpse of how she’s treated in her island prison–what it is that makes her desperate to escape. It might show us even more of your character’s strength and determination, and we’d be more invested in  her success by the time she was facing those 4 foot waves at sea.

Note: I didn’t read the prior comments to make my read “distinct.” Hope I didn’t just contradict everyone. Best of luck with your story!

Laurel: That’s an exciting opening to a story! Talk about setting your main character loose at sea in an unseaworthy craft! So, is the first line hinting at disaster? Drinking saltwater is a good way to go into convulsions, so I wasn’t sure if the narrator doesn’t know (yet) that drinking saltwater would be a bad idea. (If I’ve gone off on an unintended tangent, maybe it would better to have freedom’s scent like saltwater?) The boat is brilliant and vivid in my mind. The contrast of nest and the wobbly-ness of the whole construction makes me properly nervous. I’m trying to reconcile the school laundry with prison and getting a bit puzzled. Is prison metaphorical for school or is there a school in the prison? I’m wondering about the level of danger for the narrator. Also the swells “were just high enough to make seeing me from the shore difficult.” lowers the tension. Why not keep the tension up and make the narrator worry about that too? 🙂 Nice strong verbs and spare language. The tone is almost clinically detached in this opening. If it’s concealing a deeper emotional turmoil, maybe that could be hinted at a bit more. If the MC reminds him/herself that this isn’t the time to think about X,Y, and Z concerns, that would work too. Now I wonder what’s going to happen next. . .a sure sign that your first eight lines are doing their work.

Thanks for sharing your story with The Winged Pen!

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