Nothing Happens Nowhere

Here's a quick writing prompt to get your New Year off to a creative start. This is from Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction:

Our relations to place, time, and weather, like our relation to clothes and other objects, is charged with emotion more or less subtle, more or less profound. It is filled with judgment mellow or harsh. And it alters according to what happens to us. In some rooms you are always trapped; you enter them with grim purpose and escape them as soon as you can. Others invite you to settle in, to nestle or carouse. Some landscapes lift your spirits; others depress you. Cold weather gives you energy and bounce, or else it clogs your head and makes you huddle, struggling. You describe yourself as a night person or a morning person. The house you loved as a child now makes you, precisely because you were once happy there, think of loss and death. It’s central to fiction [and memoir] that all such emotion be used or heightened (or invented) to dramatic effect.

Nothing happens nowhere—or, as Jerome Stern observed, a scene that seems to happen nowhere often seems not to happen at all. Just as the rhythm of your prose must work with and not against your intention, so the use of narrative place and time must work with and not against your ultimate meaning. Just as significant detail calls up a sense impression and also an abstraction, so the setting and atmosphere of a story impart both information and idea. Just as dialogue must do more than one thing at a time, so can setting characterize, reveal the mood, signal change, and so forth.

TRY THIS: Invent a scene of your own, whether in war or peace and try to make the setting come alive. How will the landscape lift or lessen the mood of the characters?

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