Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Setting--Finding Cherry Hill (And a new blog to check out)

Not matter how great a character is, he or she has to be somewhere. That's where setting comes in. Much of the time, the setting isn't a real place. So, how do you describe a town that isn't there? I got the chance to hear Patricia Sprinkle talk about this very craft point on Saturday at the Turner Cassity Literary Festival. Here's a summary of her points:
  • Novels need to be about a small community even if set in a large city--the apartment building, or a work place, etc.
  • Be sure to include all the senses in the description
  • What's unique about the setting?
  • What contemporary issues impinge on the characters?
  • What universal themes are the characters facing?
All of these help define the setting.

I've been working on Cherry Hill, the small town in which my WIPs are set for some time now. It's a combination of three towns in my area--Carrollton, Temple, and Villa Rica--with a pinch of Cartersville thrown in for good measure. If you know Georgia, you have a good idea where Cherry Hill is located. ; )

Two years ago, I was the facilitator for a house party at Books and Writers Forum. In the Writers Exercises, we regularly spend time in a setting created by one of us and have a mad ad lib writing session. Sometimes we discover deep motive in our characters. In the Cherry Hill House Party, I hosted other writers in my setting. After a bit over a week we created 180,000 + words set in my little town and I learned a ton about Cherry Hill. If you want to read a bit of that story, take the link above, but I warn you, you'll be drawn into a wild and wonderful ride.

Lately, I've been using the settings I created for the house party and repurposing them for my WIP. I thought a taste of Cherry Hill on the Fourth of July might be a good way to show "describing a town that isn't there." You might notice a certain Master Gunnery Sergeant in the crowd. ; )

What's unique about your setting?
Do you have any suggestions or resources on setting?
Also, I'd love to announce a new blogger--Joann Dunn at Dispatches After Midnight. Go by and check her out. You'll love her humor.
           The antique bell clanged as I let the door shut behind me. Sweet vanilla, cinnamon, and all the aromas of fresh baked cakes, cookies, and pastry welcomed me.

“Momma, it smells just like home!” Samantha’s voice rose on the heavenly scented air, but her eyes clouded just a minute.

I couldn’t blame her. I hadn’t baked since May. That was one of the doctor’s orders. I didn’t have to like them, but I had to abide by them. My daughter needed me. Joy rose as the thought hugged me along with the scents of the bakery. “The bakery hasn’t changed in the fifty years.” The dark wood paneled walls enclosed over two dozen wrought-iron tables and chairs with curling heart-shaped backs. The wood seats were worn shiny by use.

I stepped up to the counter with its old curved-glass fronts that displayed dozens of choices—six different kinds fudge, thumb cookies with pastel spots of icing in their centers, cream horns, brownies, and petit fours.

“Do they have the little cakes, the ones with the rose buds?” She leaned on the glass, looking for them.
“Yes, there on the end.”
Samantha traced the etching on the glass of the case. It was old because the name was the original—Cherry Hill Bakery. “Why did they change the name?”
“Well bakery doesn’t quite cover it all any more now that they’ve added gourmet coffee and tea.” The front glass used the same old-style lettering, but the name was now Cherry and Bean Fine Pastries, Coffees, and Teas. “I swear they’ve not changed the recipes,” I said, and placed an order for my favorite treat—a cream horn and Irish breakfast tea.

Mona Crossley’s withered face greeted us on the terrace when we emerged back into the July heat with our treats. “Ready for the parade?” She patted the table beside her. “Best seats in Cherry Hill are right here.”

I should have known that Mona would be here early finding the perfect place under the shade of the old oak. “Did you save that for us?”

“I hoped you’d come, but I know Doc Bryant’s got you on a short leash.” She grimaced. “Bet he won’t let you bake yet.” Her eyebrows arched.

I shook my head and lifted a shoulder in a light shrug. What could I say that Mona didn’t know about cardiologists and their unreasonable rules. “He couldn’t say no to the parade. Not when he’s going to be in marching in it.”
We had the perfect vantage point. The bakery sat on the high side of the square decked out in red, white, and blue for the occasion. American flags fluttered from every wrought-iron lamppost. People had spread blankets and folding chairs out on the grass around the gazebo that served as Cherry Hill’s main stage. Little kids ran up and down the walks with flags and patriotic pinwheels fluttering in their hands.

The red, white, and blue bunting on the iron rail lifted a little as the breeze freshened.
Samantha had settled into the chair beside me, but she wasn’t looking at the patriotic decorations or the flowers rioting in the beds around the square. Her head swiveled as she watched the people gathering, a slight frown puckering her brows. Then she lit up.
Dean eased his way among the crowd on the bakery’s terrace until he stood beside Samantha. “Hi.”

“I thought you’d never get here.”
He shrugged, then winked at her. “The car was blocked in by all these folks at the parade.” He slipped an arm around her waist and planted a light kiss on her lips.

Surprise washed over me. I hadn’t seen them kiss since New Year’s Eve. Proximity was building the fire Rosemary and I had wondered about. Well, I’d wondered; Rosemary worried. And there she was a few steps behind the kids, her brow puckered with twin lines. She looked at me, nodding at the kids leaning against each other. What could I say? I nodded and shrugged. Her brows rose, her month firming and I got the message—we’d talk later. It wasn’t like we hadn’t talked this one to death already.

Samantha looped her arm around Dean. Looking over the square, she smiled. “Isn’t it exciting? I just love the parade. Especially all the men who put on their uniforms.” She pointed across the square at a short uniformed man.
I followed her gesture to a Marine in full dress blues. His coat was dark midnight blue, trimmed in red. Its white web belt had a gold waist plate buckle. The pants were a sky blue with a red stripe down the outer seams. Ribbons and metals on his chest winked in the sun.
“He’s a Marine, right?” She glanced at me. “He’s got to be hot! Aren’t their uniforms are usually wool? Look at that high collar.”
Before I could answer, Dean leaned over the rail. “The parade’s here!”

I bit my lip and watched the man. He stood back straight and chest out. Something in the line of his shoulders told me he had served a long time. His right, white-gloved hand stiffly rose to the bill of his white cap as the color guard of National Guardsmen from the major branches of service flanked the flag that led the parade into the square. Its red and white stripes and blue star-strewn field flapped, and the gold braid and tassels hanging from the pole swayed with the marching steps of the flag bearer. Sunlight glinted off the eagle standard on top, and I squinted in the glare. People quickly removed their hats and caps, laying their right hands over their hearts. Sprinkled throughout the crowd, military veterans of five wars stood at attention, their hands raised to their brows in salute.
The crowd leaned out and looked down the street as the sound of the band grew louder. Cheers broke out and applause echoed in waves along the building fronts with the high school band’s blaring rendition of the National Anthem.
The first float was greeted with a collective sigh from the crowd. The centerpiece was devastatingly simple—empty combat boots held an upended rifle crowned with a combat helmet. It was the classic honor accorded the fallen in battle. “Freedom Isn’t Free” as the sign on the side said. Everyone here owed so much to those who had fought for the country’s freedom and it was only right that the onlookers remember the price paid for this day of celebration.
I looked back at the Marine. His lean face was set. The float wasn’t a symbolic reminder of sacrifice for him. It meant fallen brothers.
Then the rest of the parade came into the square. Every church, civic group and business in Cherry Hill had tried to out-patriotic all the rest. But the first float was the best—as always.