(To my email subscribers. Click on the title SETTING AS CHARACTER in the above box for full post, links–and color.)
Playing Around With a Story Line in Different Literary Genres
Writing Leap #8 Setting as Character
Hi there Writers,
You have a feel for a certain locale and love/fear/wonder about being there in your imagination. If your character shows the same involvement with your setting then the locale can become a character as well. They interact. Physically and emotionally. Flat description doesn’t bring a place to life. For writer Donald Maass it’s about, “…exploring the ways in which a character experiences a place.”
Where would you love to be right now? Imagine a character (you?) involved with the place and write about it. Doesn’t writing give us the gateway to “live many lives” of our own creation?” And for you readers out there–Isn’t it extraordinary to feel what it might be like to be plunked down in a new locale? As the character and as yourself?
Another gusty breeze pricked their legs with sand. They laughed and ran on up the beach.
“Jacqueline, doesn’t the sand feel great on the bottoms of your feet, squishing through your toes?
Maggie scrunched her toes deeper and covered the top of her feet with little piles of sand. It tickled and felt warm and friendly. Jacqueline stuck a mussel shell in the sand on Maggie’s foot and they giggled.
A sharper wind skimmed across the sand. It pushed the dunegrasses into backbends and Maggie saw the waves whip up to a furious froth. She frowned.
Jacqueline wandered a few feet closer to the shoreline, eyeing a big piece of lime green sea lettuce floating in the waves.
“Let’s go get that lettuce for my seaweed collection. C’mon Maggie, it’s close to shore. We’ll grab it and come right out.”
“Hey NO!” YOU KNOW THE RULE. No going in the ocean without an adult. And there’s no one here.” Maggie darted after Jacqueline. “The waves are getting huge! Stop!”
“It’s right here!” Jacqueline dashed into the water to snatch the sea lettuce just within her reach. Before Maggie could blink Jacqueline was sucked down into the center of a high, dark crashing wave. Maggie’s heart leapt into her mouth.
Maggie dove into the icy waves to grab Jacqueline.
WHERE WAS SHE?
Yellow bathing suit! WHERE?
A wave roared over her head as she fought to stay in control. It smacked her in the face with a salty force that stung her eyes. She blinked hard. OH DEAR GOD. Jacqueline!
Maggie wasn’t even aware of the shaking in her legs, arms and shoulders as she put all her effort into keeping herself afloat in the surly surf.
“JACQUELINE!” she screamed. In less than a moment she felt a strong, sucking current yank at her body and in a blink she was pulled rapidly out to sea.
A RIPTIDE! They were caught in a riptide! She fought hard to swivel around towards shore. Jacqueline! Jacqueline!
A drenched head and open mouth surfaced a good distance away. Maggie heard a faint, “I can’t. I can’t.” She powered her way towards Jacqueline who was sinking, rising, sinking, struggling, spitting out salty water, disappearing here and resurfacing there in the deadly surf.
CRASH BOOM! CRASH BOOM!
Maggie swam hard and heard her father’s voice in her head. ‘A riptide has no pity. It can pull you out to sea in a breath, even a strong swimmer like you. A riptide doesn’t care.’
Jacqueline could barely dog-paddle! Maggie’s heart hit her ribs.
Then, as if the undertow were giving them a fraction of a second’s grace, a wave bumped Maggie up against Jacqueline. MAGGIE GRABBED HER. They were so far out. Get yourself in the right direction. Look for the shoreline. She held on to Jacqueline with one arm and forced her strokes to swim parallel to the beach.
Maggie saw Jacqueline’s eyes go wild. “Go limp Jacqueline! Don’t fight! I’ve got you,” Maggie shouted. Another wave engulfed them in a mighty pull further out to sea.
She could get them out of this riptide. She could. Just get parallel to the shore and try and stay parallel. Swim steady. Steady.
“It’s OK Jacqueline. I’VE GOT YOU.” She spit out another mouthful of saltwater. Fishy taste. Fishy smell. Forget it.
Focus, focus, on the lighthouse way down the beach. The front and back of her head throbbed. She heard nothing. No gulls calling, no crashing surf.
Jacqueline gagged on salt water. Maggie held her slippery body tightly. “I’ve got you. I’ve got you.” Exhaustion attacked every fiber in Maggie’s body. She willed herself with every cell to stay calm and fight the current with steady, dead-on strokes.
Suddenly, she found a moment to wrench them free of the rip current, swam them into shore with a push from a breaking wave and pulled Jacqueline out of the water onto the sand.
They were shaking and Jacqueline was sobbing.
Happy Writing Everyone,
LINKING THE ARTS
I’d love to know your favorite books, short stories, or poems where the setting is a character. There are so many incredible setting-as-character writers out there, past and present. Tell me!
A favorite scene of mine is from Tolstoy’s War and Peace when Natasha dances to the balalaika in the woodsman’s cottage and feels her Russian soul.
A Word I Love
clarity: In the sense of a crystal-like awareness and focus. Maggie found this in the riptide. Clarity even sounds illuminated.
I wouldn’t want to be caught in the middle of this