Lessons from the Fledgling Author: There Are Places I Remember

A question came up in one of my Facebook writers’ groups today—is it all right to write about a place you have never visited?

It is certainly best to write what you know, but that is not always possible. In your research of a place, do not forget to understand its geography, what plants and animals live there, and what the climate is like, especially during the time your story is set there. Investigate the local cuisines and dress and other cultural aspects. Then, create a character that is that place (and, now I realize, I should do this). Describe if it is hot or cold, dry or muggy, dusty or moldy, noisy or quiet; how it smells; what colors it is; if the buildings or rocks or whatever are rough or smooth, spiky or rounded. If it is very hot, describe how the air feels entering a character’s lungs, or how their lips dry and crack. If it is very cold, describe how their toes get numb and, the longer they are outside, how the cold creeps across their feet and up their legs. Those are the showing things you can use to describe a place you have never been. It helps if you are describing something you are at least familiar with, even if you have never been to the exact place.

If you have never been in snow, felt it touch the skin on your cheeks, made a snowman, or run outside in your bare feet just to see if you could make it to the fence and back, then you will be hard-pressed to be able to describe it. If you have never tried to sleep when the temperature is 90°F, the humidity is 98%, there is not a breath of air moving, and the cicadas are so loud you can’t hear anything else, it would be hard to pretend you know what that feels like. Your readers who have experienced these things, they will know.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

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Flash Fiction: What th…

A conversation the other day, with a friend, spurred me to write this. I experimented with writing in the first person, which I have rarely used. Then, I changed the story to present tense. This is even more rare for me. While reading it today at Writing Practice’s monthly Writers Read Out, I found it difficult to stay in the present tense. One line, in particular, came out in the past tense every time I practiced reading it, and again, at the event. “We move our conversation to Messenger.” It was interesting. My brain would not let go of the past tense, and “move” always became “moved.” At 332 words, I am not positive it counts as flash fiction, but I do not know what else to call it.

The day starts out peaceful and calm. The wild wind and rain from the previous day moved on. Even though it is cool—we no longer experience real cold—the bright winter sun shines in my eyes. It turns the fall leaves, still clinging to the trees, a fiery gold. Inside my house, it is toasty. Kano lies on his mat with his back pushed against the heater vent—his favorite spot. Kake sits at my feet.

I try to write, but Facebook distracts me. I get into a debate with a friend about whether anything—health care, taxes, sexual abuse of women and children—is important, beyond the threat of nuclear holocaust or global warming, and which would kill us first.

“You’re too pessimistic,” he says.

We move our conversation to Messenger.

I do not know why I am taking such exception on this particular day, but over the past week, the news keeps getting worse and worse. The sea ice in the Bering Sea is the thinnest—ever—at this time of year. A heatwave over all of North America set record highs—and not by small amounts, but eight or nine degrees Fahrenheit—before moving into Greenland, where rain—rain in December!—is melting the glaciers.

To top that, North Korea shot off another missile a few days ago, and Hawaii is testing its air raid sirens, after decades of not being used. I remember the air raid siren tests each afternoon in my little town when I was growing up. How stupid is that, as if the siren would make any difference? I text my friend, “Sure glad I live in a target city.”

“Yeah. No real chance of suffering from radiation sickness.” Then, my friend surprises me. “None of that really matters. We’ll move on to a better place, beyond the pearly gates.”

“Are you shitting me? We’ll just all be dead.”

A bright light. Time to say, “What th…”—the bright light fades to… pearly gates—“…e hell?”

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.