Did you read Writer's Almanac this week? Garrison Keillor attributed the phrase "murder your darlings" to British author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. I always suspected Quiller-Couch was a Death Eater.
|A sketch of Hogwarts Castle from|
the Harry Potter Lexicon. Since we can't
have the Poetry Friday Party in a fictional
castle, let's head over to Katya's place,
Write. Sketch. Repeat.
What about setting? Can you imagine the Harry Potter books without Hogwarts? Gone with the Wind without Tara? Peter Rabbit without Mr. McGregor's garden?
|Poor Peter has lost his blue jacket.|
If you dream about a house, some say, you are visiting the mansion of your soul. It's easy to become connected to place, because places hit all of our senses. Not just the Big Five: sight, sound smell, taste, and touch. In a setting, we also have thermoception (sense of heat and cold) and equilibrioception (sense of balance, or how we perceive gravity in a place).
Read more about senses beyond the Big Five here. (P.S. This won't be new information for those of you in the Sensory Processing world.)
All these senses working together, filling my brain and body with input -- this is why I love to travel. And it's why I love to visit settings -- or use a setting I'm very familiar with -- when I'm working on a book.
Settings can, however, become literary darlings.
When I began working on my middle grade novel-in-verse, my eldest had just finished fifth grade. During that last year at elementary school, I chaperoned a field trip to Mount Vernon, George Washington's home in Northern Virginia.
|Mount Vernon circa 1800.|
|The quarters were a sharp contrast to the Washington|
mansion, with its giant feather beds.
In the novel, when my characters returned from Mount Vernon, they did some research and learned about the Underground Railroad Experience Trail. This is a real, docent-led hike through the woods of Sandy Spring, Maryland. Experts believe the Quaker families in the area were part of the Underground Railroad network.
Near the end of my book, Miss Hill's fifth grade class planned and took a field trip to the trail, so they could learn more about the history of slavery.
I took my friend Michelle, my kids, her kids, and some extra kids to the trail one spring morning. (The guided hike is free, but you have to make a reservation).
|A conductor at the Underground Railroad Experience Trail.|
Freedom Seeker: The Underground Railroad Experience Trail
By Norah Hassan
On the trail, we had a conductor who helped us escape.
The whole class followed her through a forest
where signs said, To be sold and let Three Slaves.
She called us Freedom Seekers.
My family came here for a better life,
even though we were not slaves.
We did not take much.
One bag of things from home for each person.
On the trail, trackers hid, hunting for slaves.
The conductor said, “You’d rather chance
going in those woods than staying at the plantation.”
I know what it’s like to give up my bed, my neighborhood.
When the conductor said people escaped
to keep their families together, I thought of Jaddi.
He is old. My mother says once he goes home,
he will not leave Jerusalem and visit us again.
On the trail, we pretended to follow the North Star,
moss growing on trees like a compass.
I was behind Katie, hopping across the stream,
pretending to hide our scent from dogs, when she fell.
I have never seen an arm break.
I have never seen the whiteness of bone.
Ashlie said, “That’s disgusting.”
She stepped over Katie as if she were a muddy stone.
Jason, Rennie and I helped Katie to the stream bank.
T. J. called 9-1-1 on his cell phone then found Miss Hill.
I thought, Slaves did not have 9-1-1.
Jason raised his hand and asked the conductor,
“If we really were escaping slaves,
would we have to leave Katie behind?”
I know what it means to leave someone behind.
I have been a freedom seeker.
However, when I overhauled the plot of my novel this summer, I realized both Mount Vernon and the Underground Railroad Experience Trail had to go.
Can I tell you how hard it was to cut a WHOLE SETTING, especially a cool one that people should know about, and where I did a boat load of research and took pages of notes?! It felt like murder most foul, my friends.
|Can you imagine Hamlet set anywhere else but Elsinore Castle?|
(Said to be based on Kronborg Castle in Denmark.)
This was killing a darling in its truest sense, because including the experience trail in the book had become my personal agenda. The book had different ideas. We were only momentarily at odds with one another, but the needs of the book won. They always do.
I leave you with a cover of the Beatles "In My Life." Have you ever had to cut a setting you loved from a novel? Tell us about it!