Thursday, November 4, 2010

Describing Your Setting

Like many of you, I have found myself in a place where I struggled with a specific aspect of writing. My first stumbling block was point-of-view, not the first-person, second-person, third-person part. I struggled with head-hopping. Then my next obstacle was learning plot. I'm a emotions-first writer. I can write goals, motivations, and conflicts with a heap of emotions all day, but by the end of my work day my characters have not moved in the story. I have grown as a writer by learning everything I can about my writing struggles. As of today, my new writing conflict is setting. I never thought much about it before meeting my mentor. But as she reads my work she diligently points out that she can not see where my characters are coming from and going to and what the environment is around them. To help me learn more about the subject of setting, I spent the summer learning more about the area I have set my novel in. I also took pictures and bought books along the way. 

My first trip this summer was to the Wichita Mountains located in southern Oklahoma. I snapped many pictures of my kids and their friends at the Holy City, Mount Scott, and near a little lake (which I can't remember it's name). My second trip was on Father's Day. My husband drove me and our kids out to Lake Diversion. This is the exact location of my setting for my novel. I discovered an ancient map online and found the path of the old Wichita River which used to run near Lake Diversion. I also found that path of the river which still has a faint trail today. Using that faint trail, I discovered the town for my novel. I burned up the camera snapping pictures of native grasses, buttes, shelves, and farm lands. I discovered a part of the country I didn't know existed in these parts. Even though I snapped a lot of pictures of that area I will not post those because the images are too specific for what I want to accomplish with this blog post. My last trip was to Fort Worth and Decatur. In Fort Worth, we visited the Log Cabin  and saw a-hands-on 19th century village. We also visited Thistle Hill, but they wouldn't let me take pictures. In Decatur, we visited a 19th century museum (which used to be a Christian college in the 1800's). I took pictures of artifacts that were specifically from the Decatur area during the 19th century. I thought I'd share with y'all some of my findings.

 I can't remember this lake's name. But I thought the landscape was beautiful. I love the boulders and the tall grass against the backdrop of the lake and hill.

We are visiting the Holy City at the Wichita Mountains. This is the inside of the chapel. To this day they still hold services and wedding ceremonies inside the chapel. The art work on the ceiling is breathtaking. During the Easter holidays, they hold a Passion Service during sunrise.

Prairie dogs populate the Wichita Mountains. Though contact with the animals is strongly discouraged, I do have a photo of my son playing with a baby prairie dog.

We are driving up Mount Scott. We are not to the top, yet. About half way up, I became mesmerized by this view and made my husband stop the vehicle.

We visited the Visitor's Center at the Wichita Mountains. They have a movie room where visitors can watch a documentary about how the refuge began. There are exhibits of native animals, grasses, and insects. They also have a souvenir shop where I bought this book. I was pleasantly surprised with this book because it has pictures of local prostitutes in it. (There is a prostitute in my novel. I almost described her like I see in the movies with a corset, shawl, and skirt. The prostitutes in this book were dressed modestly.)

This photo is from the Log Cabin Village in Fort Worth, Texas. We see how early pioneers cooked on a hearth. The Village has many on hand volunteers who dress in 19th century costumes and work in the village, sewing, cooking, and performing certain crafts, such as candle making, spinning, weaving, and more. Two of these log cabins are Fort Worth cabins, but the other seven are historic Texas structures which were carefully dissembled and moved to the present site. All nine structures are actual mid-1800's cabins. The park has authentic log homes and artifacts, blacksmith shop, one-room schoolhouse, smokehouse, water powered gristmill, and a herb garden.

This log cabin only had one room, one bed, one table, and a cradle. I can't help but think how crowded families were in the home.

This is me grinding corn into meal. It was hard. I can't imagine how long it must've taken the average wife to grind enough corn into meal for the day's cornbread.
 I think I understand the old saying now, "Half past cornbread and goin' on biscuits." (Even though the process of baking bread took longer, grinding the wheat was easier and sometimes the flour could be bought locally.)

This is one of the volunteers who before we arrived was knitting. She taught me how to work the hand pump on the water spigot. I must remember for my novel to always prime the pump before attempting to get water.

I love this picture! I have a scene where my heroine is baking in the kitchen with her grandma. I have already used this image countless times. I also enjoyed showing my children the toaster hanging on the wall. Can you see it? It is hanging between the hearth and the iron skillet. The contraption already has two pieces of bread in it.

I could've watched this man work all day. I was fascinated with his skill working wood. While standing there, he made four legs to a table. They were beautifully crafted with curves and etching. Even though the machinery is all manual, the man worked very fast.

This is a one-room schoolhouse. The walls are white-washed. The black board was quite large. The seating didn't have desks. Lanterns hung from the ceiling for light. There was also a wash stand at the back of the room near a closet.

 I bought these books from the Log Cabin Village Store. The store clerks were dressed in time period clothing. They also had artifacts and old-fashioned candy in the store. In Bowie, Texas at a antique store/tea room called, Nostalgia...I bought real cakes of lye soap. The owners make it often to sell. If you drop by you have to try an ice cream soda  from their old-timey soda fountain.

I found some very useful information in this book, such as why mothers dressed their toddler sons in dresses. Did you ever want to know why? The book says 19th century mothers didn't have diapers so to keep pants from soiling they put the boys in dresses until they were properly potty-trained.

I also discovered there were a lot of superstitions back in the day. Have you ever lost something and couldn't find it? The book has your remedy...The person who has lost the object SPITS into his right hand and hits the spittle with his left forefinger. The spittle will splatter in the direction of the lost object...Happy hunting, y'all!

This books shows how mothers taught daughters to cook by memorizing rhymes. (Johnny Cake in Rhyme)  "Two cups Indian, one cup wheat; One cup good eggs that you can eat. One-half cup molasses too, One big spoon sugar added thereto: Salt and soda, each a small spoon. Mix up quickly and bake it soon." The book also has food insults, "He's as helpless as spilled beans on a dresser." And here's my favorite, remedy for being struck by lightening, "For a couple of hours shower in cold water. In case there is still no sign of life, add a cupful of salt and continue for another hour." Ha!!! Salt won't help the dead!!! LOL

This is a hearse located at the museum in Decatur. It boasts, "1886 Model Air-conditioned Front Seat" (Shameful to stay I stood there wondering if that was a joke!)

This is the top to a wedding dress. It is charcoal gray, almost black with matching brocade trim. The caption reads, "Top to My Mother's Wedding Dress. Emma P. Butterfield and William B. Towles were married in Sulphur Springs, Texas in 1892. The skirt for some reason got away from me." ~Ethel Towles Alvord, Texas

I have discovered when planning my book that I need to take some time and visited local places where my novel is set. Take lots of pictures and never trust my memory because I'm forgetful. Even though you don't want to fill up pages of setting, adding the right descriptive sentences will add detail for the reader to see your story more clearly. Happy Writing! ~Debra Calloway

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