Setting the Mood

Outtakes 402

Setting the Mood

By Cait Collins


The place is important in the setting, but it also needs to create a connection to the characters and the situation.  For example is the location a sleepy village or a bustling city?  Are the citizens staunch conservatives or progressives.  Are there multiple churches and faiths, or just a few houses of worship?  Is it a comfortable atmosphere, or are there tense under currents?

How would you describe the downtown architecture:  modern, traditional, or colonial?  Do you feel a sense of history?  Are there historic statues in the parks?  Are there markers providing facts about the events or the sites?  Are there parades on Memorial Day or Veterans’ Day?  What about the 4th of July?

As your protagonist walks the streets, do the citizens greet him or ignore him?  Are the people divided between the haves and have nots?’  Who’s the money man?

With these choices in mind, write the opening paragraph of your novel or short story.

Twilight settled softly on the dusty town.  A gentle breeze moved the leaves and dirt across the weathered boards of the sidewalk.  Stanton stepped down the two wooden steps and on to the concrete road. He’d been in town for two days and no one except the waitress in the diner had said “Hi” to him.  Burnett, Texas was just like him mother had described, dirty, depressing, and dead.

More Than a Place

Outtakes 401

More Than a Place

By Cait Collins


When I begin working on a new project, I have an idea of where I will build the story.  In other words, where do I want to place my characters?  I try to use familiar locations or places where I’ve lived instead of trying to traverse Central Park when I’ve never been there.  Even though you can get some feel of Central Park from a travel guide, it’s risky to attempt to describe the park when you’re not sure if a particular site is in the north or west part of the park.

When writing How Do You Like Me Now, I used a small west Texas town.  It’s one of those places where everyone knows his neighbor, how often the husband and wife fight, and that Jack was arrested for DWI again.  There are good things and bad, but then that’s true of every place.  By placing my characters in this town, I could describe the shot-gun house, the long, tree-lined driveway and the huge pecan tree in the back yard.  Of course there was a porch swing.

With a familiar setting, you have a better grasp of the citizens.  Are they side-takers?  Do they accept strangers?  Do they fear authority?  Can they accept change?

Bottom line is setting is more than just a location.  The setting encompasses not only the size and location of the town; it’s also the character of the place.  It’s the people and their flaws and good qualities. That’s why I would be hesitant to set a story in a place I had never visited

Learning Setting

Outtakes 400

Learning Setting

By Cait Collins


I remember someone, obviously not a writer, say that journalists have an advantage when writing fiction, because they are used to writing.  Truth is writing for a news cast, a radio slot, or even a newspaper is the complete opposite of writing fiction.  For example I had to learn about settings.

Journalism is almost strictly Who, What, Where, When, Why.  You might have 30 seconds to tell the story. You don’t have time to talk about the sunny afternoon with the temperature in the eighties.  Its John Doe drove his car into a house on the corner of 45th and some street on Sunday at 2 P.M. because he was intoxicated.  The driver was taken to the hospital and released after treatment.  The police are investigating.

Fiction relies, to a certain extent, on details.  Think of Snoopy’s standard opening, “It was a dark and stormy night.”  This begins to set the scene.  There’s a storm.  John Doe opened the car door and stepped out into the ankle deep puddle.  It had been raining all day, and in the darkness, he hadn’t noticed the flooded driveway.  He shivered as the icy water soaked his shoes and jeans legs.  He fumed as he stomped toward the front door.  Wasn’t it bad enough that his girlfriend of twelve months had broken up with him?  Now he was soaked and freezing.  And what did she mean “he couldn’t commit?”

Now we have the setting.  So we just have to decide where we go next.

A Storyteller’s Point of View

Outtakes 399

A Storyteller’s Point of View

By Cait Collins


I love listening to men and women who know how to tell a story.  As difficult as writing a good story is, speaking off the top of the head, is beyond my comprehension.  I listened to Jeff Campbell tell the story of the Sand Creek Massacre.  He began by telling the point of view of the military leaders who hated the Indian tribes.  Their hate grew until they decided to take out a meeting of the leaders of the Indian nations and government officials.  In the early hours of the morning, US cavalry invaded land around Sand Creek.’

And then the scene changes.  The tribesmen awakened from sleep are confused.  They hear the gunfire and gather around the flag pole where a flag of truce flies.  The soldiers surround them.  And then…

Jeff has a masterful way of moving from one point of view to another.  The change is so seamless there is no hiccup in the story.  Every point of view brings out the emotions, fears, and confusion of the parties as they are attacked and killed.  Every bit of hate and disdain from the soldiers is evident as they pull the triggers.  And what about the shocked silence of the soldiers who disagreed with the renegade military?  Yes, you could feel their disbelief as men, women, and children fall.  And the story is so masterful; you hear, see and feel the events as they unfold.  You can even smell the gun powder in the air.

That ability is truly moving and exciting.  It makes me wish I could write the way Jeff talks.

Changing Point of View (POV)

Outtakes 397

Changing Point of View (POV)

By Cait Collins


We work hard to make our stories perfect or as perfect as possible.  Something often noticed in our own review or a critique session is the shift of the POV in the middle of a scene.  There are different ways to make the correction without a major rewrite.

Double Double Space between the two POV paragraphs.

Insert a phrase that maintains the POV.  Mary shouted. “It’s your fault our baby died.” Frank’s eyes narrowed…  “Change to It’s your fault our baby died.”  She saw his eyes narrow…

Change the setting.  Frank walked out of the room. He was through with the constant reminders of his son’s death.

If no other options work, rewrite.

The Ghost In The Story

Outtakes 394

The Ghost In The Story

By Cait Collins


Have you ever picked up a book because the cover caught your eye?  Then you read the synopsis and thought the book was a keeper?  You read the first three chapters and put it down?

I have a stack of books like this ready to go to the library for their book sale.  Sometime the book just doesn’t live up to the hype.  The real question is Why hasn’t the story kept your attention?  Maybe it was because the genre just wasn’t your cup of tea.  Maybe one of the characters bothered you.  Maybe it was contrived.  But the simple answer might be that it is too predictable.

A good plot twist may be just the seasoning you need.

Imagine this.  Carter’s mother disappeared three years ago.  She hasn’t called, written, or sent a greeting card.  The police believe she is dead, but there is no body.  One snowy winter’s eve there’s a knock on the front door. Carter opens it and his mother is standing on the front step with a baby in her arms.  Carter is dumbfounded.  Who is the baby and why did his mother come home now?

This is a simple use of plot twist.  This one event changes the course of the story.  So how does the writer use this to enhance the story?  The first consider whether or not the event impacts the story enough that you want to play on it.  If you can make it work without it becoming a burden on the plot, use it.  Develop the story using the twist.  But if you have to contrive the action to make the twist work, stop.  This twist is not the road your story should take. Plot twists are needed within the story to keep the readers interest and to move the plot to a satisfying end.  To throw an event into the story for no logical reason or for the word count does not necessarily create a good story. Tossing a ghost in the midst of a romance might sound fun and thrilling, but the ghost has to have a purpose. He can’t just be the invisible guest in the room.

Point of View

Outtakes 392

Point of View

By Cait Collins

I do not make detailed character sketches or outlines.  That much organization makes me want to go to one of the happy places people tell me about.  You know the places where there’s no stress.  My writing style is more of dump it in and edit later.  Maybe that’s why I often have problems with point of view. I often mix Points Of view (POV) in the same scene.

I’m often asked if I intended the story to be told from an Omniscient Point of View.  That might work if I wrote non-fiction or educational material.  But I write women’s fiction, plays, screenplays, and memoirs.  These genres have definite points of view.

For example, the heroine in my current work has returned home after seven years as an actress.  She’s found a measure of happiness and fulfillment managing her uncle’s pottery shop.  All of a sudden, the past comes crashing in and threatening to destroy her new world. The story is told from three major points of view: the heroine, the hero, and the antagonists.  I think I finally have found the way to keep from violating the POV.  When I change the actual setting of the story, I start a new chapter with a new speaker and a new POV.

Women’s Fiction

Outtakes 390

Women’s Fiction

By Cait Collins

I have written several different genre’s during my career.  Most of my work is from my years as a broadcaster. I have commercial copy, sales materials, three half-hour documentaries, and a 13-week TV series on local racing activities to my credit.  I have two children’s plays.  One of them won a silver medal in a state-wide Bible competition.  I have written two memoirs.  I also have Bible teaching materials for upper elementary students.  But I must admit my favorite genre to write is women’s fiction.

I enjoy creating women who face major issues but battle back from the brink of disaster to become strong and happy people.  Sometimes there is a suspense element. Other times the enemy is herself.  Often she fights the misperceptions others have invented for her.  There is always romance.  The trick is keeping each story fresh and exciting for the reader.  Each woman must have a unique problem to solve. Above all, she must grow from who she is at the beginning of the story to who she is destined to be.

Happy writing.  Thank you for visiting the Wordsmithsix blog site.

The Quiet Man

Outtakes 389


The Quiet Man

By Cait Collins


I truly love some of the older movies.  One of my favorites is The Quiet Man.  Set in Ireland, the movie follows boxer, Sean Thornton (John Wayne), as he returns to the land once owned by his family.  Sean is seeking peace following the tragic death of his opponent during a boxing match. He meets spinster, Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), and learns that courting in Ireland is much different from the more progressive USA.  The road to marriage and wedded bliss is rocky, but when Sean finally confronts his brother-in-law, Mary Kate softens and the love story takes a turn for the better.

The Irish music and the gorgeous scenery add to the story.  This is a movie I watch as often as I can catch it on TV. The movie was so popular it spawned a Western spin-off…McClintock.  Loved that one, too.

Thank you for following WordsmithSix.


Outtakes 388



By Cait Collins


Having worked for Disney part time for five years, I developed a deep respect for the animation teams that created the magic we saw on the screen.  I can truthfully say the hours I spent on stage in the new Disney Store in Amarillo were some of the most fulfilling work hours I ever experienced.

Walt Disney believed in the magic of movies.  I recall his black and white television show from the fifties.  The weekly forays into Adventure Land, Fantasy Land and Tomorrow Land were anticipated. We were living in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  My Dad and some of the other fathers would load kids into cars and take us to the base theater on Saturdays for the matinees.  The innovation and skills of the animation and live action teams entertained my friends and me.

Disney has always been a leader in technology and storytelling.  While I loved the animated movies, I relished his live-action movies.  The recent release of Aladdin is further evidence of the studio’s commitment to innovation and storytelling.  Guy Ritchie led the cast and crew to the Middle East and into the lives of a young man struggling to survive and a princess who wanted freedom.  Theirs is a love story told against the backdrop of the ancient city of Agrabah skillfully created by scene and set designers. The viewer is there in the streets of an old city, in the Arabian desserts, in the Cave of Wonders, and the waters of the bays right along with Aladdin, Jasmine and the Genie. We are a part of the story and not merely an audience.

The music is pure magic, incorporating the Howard Ashman/Alan Menken lyrics and score from the animated movie Aladdin with new music from La La Land songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Pasek and Paul gave Jasmine her voice with a new song. Her song.

The staging and costumes are magnificent. The cast skillfully selected from actors and actresses of ethnic cultures that cemented the look of an ancient kingdom.  Mena Massoud’s portrayal of Aladdin as a charming street rat longing to escape his world is perfect. Naomi Scott brings Jasmine from a voiceless woman to a leader. Marwan Kenzari’s Jafar is deliciously evil. Dalia, Jasmine’s handmaiden, played by Nasim Pedrad, has just the right spunk.  She’s loyal, wanting only the best for Jasmine.

Will Smith’s portrayal of the Genie is magic. He brings just the right combination of mystic, wish granting, and humanity to the character.  Genie is a teacher, leader, confidant, and father figure. His performance is deserving of an Oscar.

Aladdin is not just a kid’s movie.  The story can take us back to the times in our lives where we were unsure, lonely, and searching for who we really are.  It reminds us that dreams are the seeds of finding ourselves.  It doesn’t matter if you’re five or fifty, Aladdin will take you on a journey from a dream to fulfillment.  It’s one movie you don’t want to miss.