Writings Tips for Creating Realistic Settings

We live in a very visual world. Our entertainment is mostly visual: TV, movies, videos and, of course, our cell phones.

Above Photo courtesy of Hans Benn of Pixabay.

When you write a story, however, you must create the setting for the reader through words alone. This can be challenging. For instance, the setting for a story includes a full moon. Is that enough information? Unfortunately not.
Look at the photos below.

photo of a full moon with dark trees in the firefront
Photo courtesy of Gerry Sprie

This photo was taken by my friend, Gerry Sprie. This could be a dense forest, or the woods on a foggy night. I envision this setting being used for a scary story, perhaps for a Halloween tale, but for others, it might be a romantic moon in a lush forest.
The trees in this photo are very different than the trees in the next image. The setting below seems more confining, as opposed to openness of the taller trees and the clearer view above. I feel a bit claustrophobic with the photo below.

Full moon peeking between trees

Full moons don’t appear only at night. Sometimes, the moon rises when the sun is still out. That setting is much different from the previous one.
Daytime moons can be varied as well.

Full moon showing in daylightThe moon here is rising above a majestic mountain range, while the one below is entangled in a ground level tree. Of course, the tree and mountains are part of the setting as well, and can help set the scene you’re writing. One gives a feeling of a wide Western vista, and the other is grounded. I might even write that the rising moon is snagged in the branches of a Palo Verde tree.

Full moon early risingA full moon provides many elements for a story: illumination for the nighttime activity, the effect of the full moon on the tides and possibly behavior, tying in the local cultural beliefs associated with full moons, or it could even mark a time of year. So many possibilities.

For practice, try writing descriptions of these photos or some photos of your own. Will the reader see the scene in her mind’s eye? Will you transport the reader to your story’s location to experience what the character is experiencing? What does the sky look like? Is there a breeze? What odors does he smell? What sounds surround him?

The goal of the writer is to utilize all the senses, pulling the reader into the story as if she was there. Have fun with this and remember to keep at it. Practice does make perfect with writing!

Book Note: I have very much enjoyed writing to bring alive the flora and fauna of The Bahamas and the Cayman Islands in my adventure tales written for 8-12 year-olds. The characters are critters who seem to be experts at making mischief. I hope you will consider these educational adventure tales that have the science of the islands woven into the stories. In other words, readers learn about the wildlife in these locales in a fun way. In my book, Curtis Curly-tail Hears a Hutia, an endangered species threatens a protected environment–and the reader gets to choose the ending he or she believes will best solve the problem. I believe science should be fun, and I hope you will agree.

colorful children's book cover with a curly-tail lizard riding on the back of a hutia
This is a special story for readers who like to solve problems. It takes Curtis Curly-tail on his second adventure, but is based on real ecological events taking place on Warderick Wells Cay in The Bahamas.
The hutia are endangered rodents native to the islands. Some are transplanted to Curtis’s cay, and Curtis meets his new friend, Horace. When the scientists come back to check on the hutia, they find that the native shrubs are almost gone, due to the hungry hutia.
But Curtis and Horace do not understand what is happening when the hutia are captured and put into cages. Curtis decides to do everything he can to help Horace and his family.
It is you, the reader, however, who must decide how the story will end. How do you solve a problem when an endangered species threatens a protected environment? There are three endings to the book. Which one will you choose?
Or, will you come up with another solution?
Lesson plans for teachers are also
available at iginspired@gmail.com.

November 20th is National Absurdity Day

On November 20th, absurdity is celebrated by being whacky, for example. It strikes me as absurd that on November 19th, we celebrate carbonated beverages with caffeine day. One day later we can expand and include other absurdities.

Some might think it is absurd to write a book. Some days, writers think so, too! Or go to Caribbean islands and spend all your time chasing large lizards that are not happy to be part of a scientific study. I often visit islands with gorgeous beaches and never actually get in the ocean – now that is absurd!

Absurdity and ridiculousness keep life interesting. What is absurd? The illogical, unreasonable, the crazy, zany and the nonsensical. November 20th is the day to accept life’s absurdities and perhaps create some of your own. Have some fun with it. Let your absurd side run free . . . if only for a day!

Book Note: An absurd moment did hit one day when I was thinking about a recent visitor to Arizona and a story began to unfold in my mind. The scientist in me included Sonoran Desert flora and fauna in the story (with a glossary, no less!), but the comedian in me caused the story’s impolite visitor to stumble from one desert danger to the next, while trying to photograph a hummingbird. Even though I write mystery novels in addition to my FUN children’s science books, I did not kill off the visitor. But the number of his injuries might give him pause when thinking about returning, right?

For a good (and educational) laugh, check out How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird. Your kids will enjoy the absurdities; you could even read it to your little ones–it is illustrated.

illustration of a hummingbird on a cactus
A Humorous Tale Introducing the Plants and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
“I’ll have a long-term memory of this visit. Maybe a permanent one,.” the visitor said. Whatever could he mean?  A bumbling visitor to Southern Arizona is repeatedly injured when trying to photograph a mischievous hummingbird, as the Sonoran Desert conspires against him.
Have a laugh while enjoying learning about the plants and animals of Southern Arizona.           For All Ages Reading Level Age 8+ 26 pages
Glossary of Minerals, Flora and Fauna
Illustrated by Anderson Atlas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Umm . . . Ever Wanted to Lick a Toad’s Back?

Toad image courtesy of ockienot88 from Pixabay

Are you familiar with the word entheogen? I wasn’t either until I heard it mentioned in a talk about the Sonoran Desert toad, also known as the Colorado River toad, Incilius alvarius.

You may have heard of this toad without knowing much else: It’s the toad made famous by claims that if you licked its back, you would experience a hallucinogenic effect, due to entheogen. Entheogen is a psychoactive substance that produces alterations in perception, mood, cognition or behavior for the purpose of enhancing spiritual development. The compound found specifically in this species of toad that causes this effect is 5-MeO-DMT (5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine).

The toad only produces these toxins for defensive purposes, not for human use as an entheogen. You must harass the toad to get it to secrete its toxins and, for the record, harassing animals is just wrong. By the way, licking the toad will not get you high, or closer to your deity. And, if your dog tries to eat one of these toads, it could be fatal. Native predators have learned to avoid the toad’s back, grabbing its prey by the feet and eating the underbelly.

Sonoran Desert toads also produce the related toxin bufotenin (5-HO-DMT). These toxins are exudates from the parotoid gland behind the toad’s eyes.

Now you know what “entheogen” means. Try to include it your next conversation. I love the challenge of new words and try to inject them as often as I can. I guess that means I am a writer. Well, you can kind of tell that on My Books page, too. Still, to think a tiny curly-tail lizard could inspire me to write his story and that THAT would lead to all these science books that I’ve written to be FUN is really something! We just never know where life is going to take us.

Enjoy the quest!

A collage of book covers indicating the categories of books at elaineapowers.com
My Books By Category

 

 

Ophidiofomophobia. Say, what?

I’m always learning new words. I thought someone who liked reptiles was a “herpephile.” I found out lately it is actually “herpetophile.” There really is a word for people like me who like reptiles and enjoy studying them.

Then I read about “ophidiofomophobia.” I had to look it up, but, unfortunately, it isn’t a real word, although it really should be. I know “Ophidiophobia” is a fear of snakes.  Ophidiofomophobia would be the fear of NOT having snakes. I would definitely suffer from ophidiofomophobia. I can’t imagine not sharing my yard with a variety of snakes.  They are all welcome, even those that rattle.

This examination of phobia words lead me to wondering about other phobias. Was there a word for people afraid of lizards?  Not a specific one for lizards, but there is a general one for reptiles: Herpetophobia is a fear of reptiles, usually lizards and snakes, but also crocodilians. I guess lizards don’t get their own phobia.

I feel iguanas—the big lizards—deserve their own phobia, at least.  Iguanaphobia has a nice rhythmic flow to it, don’t you think?

Seriously, phobias are serious issues that shouldn’t be joked about. One of the reasons I’m interested in writing science-based books is to help people learn about misunderstood animals and, hopefully, lessen their fears.

My motto is: Respect. Don’t fear.

infographic complete book description of book Don't Make Me Rattle