Friday Conversations With A Self-Publishing Writer 04/17/15

SETTING THE STAGE IIblack beauty

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.  If ever there was a novel—and author—to be recognized in the world of legacy writing, it is this one.  It has stood the test of time not only because the main character is a horse (utilizing the writing technique of personification), but because of excellent development of Setting, Plot and Characters.

The story is set in the Victorian Era (reign of Queen Victoria 1837-1901), an age of progress and tradition.  Although travel by train/railroads is coming into fashion, the horse was still the main mode of transportation, either by saddle or pulling a carriage.  Born in 1820, Anna Sewell experienced a unique perspective of her environment having seriously injured both ankles (about age 14).  For the remainder of her life, Anna could not stand without a crutch or walk any distance.  Her “legs” became horse-drawn carriages where she witnessed many of the episodes she wrote about.

Anna chose to begin her novel in the English countryside—on a farm where a beautiful colt was born and raised over a 4-year timeframe.  The first page offers visual and refreshing descriptions: 1) “a pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water;” 2) shade trees leaning over the pond where “rushes and water lilies grew;” 3) a plowed field could be seen over the hedge, and in the other direction was the house and the road; 4) “at the top of the meadow was a grove of fir trees, and at the bottom a running brook overhung by a steep bank.”  Can you picture it?  Many a famous artist has attempted to capture that image of peace and harmony.

Without the readers knowing it, each of us instantly created an image in our minds.  They are unique to each person, yet each one involves the basic elements of setting:

  1. Time of Day. The human mind holds distinct and vivid associations with different periods of the day.  When reading a description such as the one above, most will instantly create a visual orientation of the scene—and place themselves IN it.  Although there will be other distinctive scenes throughout the book, the opening scene/setting needs to be one Readers will not forget.
  2. Sense of time. The minutes, hours (days, weeks and months) encapsulated in your novel need to unfold moment-by-moment—just as we experience our daily lives.  Of course, the story cannot hold every minute of every day in the characters’ lives.  However, this sense of fluid motion (connecting one event with the next) will bring reality into focus for the Reader.  Again, the Black Beauty novel is an excellent example as the setting moves the reader from peaceful pastureland to cobblestone London streets with ease.
  3. Experiencing the Setting. There are many setting factors that influence a Reader’s ability to experience your story.  With each chapter (or section change within a chapter) set the stage very specifically by including aspects of light (bright sunlight—shadowed forest, etc.), weather, and temperature. I’ve known some writers to research the allergy seasons, butterfly and geese-migration seasons, etc.  ALL of these (and many others) will add to the emotional impact felt by readers.

In closing, I offer you one more thought about Anna Sewell, this very famous author. As the daughter of a well-known children’s book author—Mary Wright Sewell—she was IN the right setting for creative writing exploration.  However, Black Beauty was her only novel.  She sold her novel to a local publisher—saw it published when she was 57 years old—and died five months later. DO YOU have a novel waiting to be written?  DON’T WAIT!  Finish it and get it published!  Your publishing options are plentiful!

ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.

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