Sunday, April 24, 2011


One of the problems I’ve had in learning my writing skills is the ‘talking head’ syndrome. I have a tendency to progress my story too quickly and not put in the senses that make a story great, bring the reader into what my characters are experiencing.

Last night I watched the Civil War based movie 'Beguiled' with a very young, very handsome Clint Eastwood as the northern soldier who is taken into a southern girls’ school to be nursed back to health. I remember seeing it years ago and how much I enjoyed it then.

First, I must confess I have this fetish for moss hanging on those gorgeous big trees in the south. I was lucky enough to see the trees draped in moss in person. Yes, it did give my heart a flutter. Anyway, I digress. One really great part of this movie was the way the director used the setting to bring out the mood of the story. The director skillfully added the items in the school and the garden to surround us with what it was like to be in the South during the Civil War. I know it enhanced my watching pleasure.

My time period is set during the California gold rush because we live where it happened in the Sierra Mountains of California. I love to explore the old Victorian houses when they are open to the public, but it isn’t the same as living in them during the 1800s. One thing I noticed in the movie was when the women walked through the otherwise dark house at night, holding a candlestick with one candle to light her way, it only lit up the small area where they walked. I hadn’t even thought about how dark it would remain in the rest of the room, hallway or staircase. I guess I just took it for granted the single candle would light the entire room, even though we’ve endured living by candle light during blackouts. It got me to thinking about other things that I knew, but didn’t think about when setting my scenes. I have started back into my stories and using my sensory words to enrich my plot.

What this movie brought home for me was to stretch my imagination and put myself into the setting more and pull out all the little things that can bring your story to life. I’ve always been one to notice most everything when we are traveling. Now I have to start noticing what goes on around me and try to spiff up my stories by making them more human.


Nicola McKenna said...

Hi all,

I agree Paisley, setting is all important and can enhance one's story tremendously. In my own case, I tend to write down the action, revise it to get sequence of events right, thread emotions through the prose. But it is only after all that that I think about how setting elements might be incorporated.

Thanks for the great post! Nicola.

Mona Risk said...

Hi Marlene-- For me too setting is an integral part of the story. I usually start by writing the dialog and the setting, then I add the emotion and tags.

Dawn Marie Hamilron said...

Hey Paisley, enjoyed your post. I write in layers, always returning to the scene to enhance the senses. I've found it helps to close my eyes and imagine I'm in the scene with the characters.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Hi Nicola, Your way of putting in the setting sounds great. It is something I lack in so it makes me nervous to think I could make the story a lot better if I could just see it better in my mind. We live where the stories are set so I can do the obvious outdoor settings, it is the interiors I need work on.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

You have such exciting settings, Mona. You do a great job showing us these places. :)

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

You're right Dawn. Closing your eyes does seem to make it easier to see these places. Thanks for stopping by today.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Paisley--Thanks for the movie recommendation. I'm working on a Civil War story, and there are surprisingly few films available.I also struggle with slowing down and bringing the details to life. Thanks for reminding me:)

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Clarissa, You are welcome. The other night I found it on the "On Demand' on my cable channel. I hope you like it as much as I did.

Good luck with your story. :)

Josie said...

It is the little things that bring the story to life. Setting and attention to detail make a world of difference to the reader.