April 12, 2016

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pimp My Setting

I know what you're thinking... what's with the classroom seating chart? Boring.

Not so! Because it's not for a real classroom.

Writers do all kinds of crazy things to kick-start the imagination. I "pimped my setting" by making a seating chart for the fictional fifth grade class in my middle-grade novel-in-verse. The chart works like a map, but it also helped me think about which characters are sitting by friends, or crushes, or kids who annoy them. I love the concept of "Girl Island" -- a table with no boys! It's borrowed from my kids' elementary school. Still trying to work it into the novel.

I just got home from our regional SCBWI weekend retreat. This year, we were in quaint Lewes, Delaware. Couldn't enjoy the beach or cute little town much because of the deluge. But rainy days (and catered meals) are great for staying in and writing.

One of the writing tricks we used was borrowed from NaNoWriMo.  NaNo regions sometimes assign challenges -- e.g. Marylanders are challenged to include crabcakes somewhere in their projects.

At the retreat, we did hourly challenges. There were flip-flop and seashell shaped gourmet chocolates for the top challenge winners (not everyone participated).

Here's how it works and what makes it good for writing: Challenge #2 was "chocolate covered pretzels."

I was going to dump the pretzels into a scene in my YA suspense novel. The protag's boyfriend brings her jelly beans (my preference at 15 years old). Easy to swap for pretzels. But when the pretzels came in, they snapped me and my beans out of habitual thinking. Chocolate covered pretzels, hmm? My character really likes yogurt-covered pretzels (this was news to me). And her boyfriend didn't know, or care enough to notice the difference.

My friend Cyndee had the pretzel confections show up in a minor character's car. They were on the floor -- been there a while. That little moment tells me something about the character. Something Cyndee didn't know before.

So -- got any writers' tricks to share? How do you pimp your setting?

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