Monday, December 6, 2010

WRITING PROMPT: A Sense of Place with Bethany Hegedus

Writing Prompt/Superb Settings by Bethany Hegedus
My first two novels, Between Us Baxters (WestSide Books, 2009) and Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte, 2010) are both southern novels—one set in the civil rights era South and one contemporary—as in the present day—the events in the book could be taking place today, at this very moment. This one. Now. Or whatever moment the reader picks up the book and delves into Maebelle and Isaac’s story.
Both books are set in fictional Georgia towns. Between Us Baxters takes place in Holcolmb County, Georgia in 1959 and Truth with a Capital T takes place in Tweedle, Georgia. (AKA: Twiddle-Your-Thumbs-Georgia, as there is not a lot to do.) I choose both to be in fictional towns rather than real-life towns as I like to be influenced by reality but not be tied to it. But, when it comes to setting aren’t we supposed to be portraying something real? After all, I write historical and contemporary fiction—not fantasy.
Well, for me, to produce realistic and vibrant settings I like to call upon a place, but to not stay tied to that place. For Between Us Baxters, I imagined Holcolmb County as Burke County, Georgia—a county not far from Augusta, Georgia where I taught high school in the mid-1990’s. I called upon the pine trees I loved, the willow I would sit under as a girl, and the scent of rain as it transformed red, cracked Georgia clay into mud. I used my senses—calling upon real details—the way a windshield fogs in the South from the inside out due to humidity, the way a tree can not only shade you but welcome you, and the way a trip into the woods alone can turn from feeling freeing to daunting in a matter of minutes as the sun goes down.
For Truth with a Capital T, I drew on the small town of Halleyville, Alabama where my grandpa and grandma Bell lived. My last trip to Halleyville, Alabama was when my grandpa died. But, I do remember being in the car, signing Kenny Rodgers songs on the trip from Chicago, and crossing over a bridge on the way into town. The bridge was just an itty, bitty thing. It went up and and then down—kind of the shape of a slinky (Yes, I am a 70’s kid) and before we knew it we were on the other side of the bridge. That bridge had a nickname and I am a sucker for nicknames: The Kiss-Me-Quick Bridge, because if you were going to kiss someone as you went over it better be quick. That bridge and its nickname worked its way into Truth with a Capital T. It is an integral part of the plot. Many a scene takes place under the bridge, in the muddy waters below and it is a place of great significance as Maebelle explores her family’s history and their mysterious past.
Writer Prompt/Creating Superb Settings
Think of a place that you love. That feels familiar to you. It can be a large scale, like an entire town, or small scale, like a tree or a bridge. Imagine being there. What do you see? What can you hear? How does the air smell? Brisk? Clean? Are you indoors or outside? Now, picture your main character in this spot. How does he/she think or feel about this place? Is it special to them or is it common place? Does your character have the same feelings about the place as you do or are they different, how so and why?
Have your character move around this place. Are they walking? Jumping? Sitting? Standing? Caressing worn upholstery? Kneading dough on a hard counter? Are they wading through a stream? Turning the pages of a book? Facing an enormous crowd? Watching a sunrise? Is anyone with them? If so, who? Is this person friend or foe? Does your character need to hide or does your character welcome this new guest? Are the quarters cramped or expansive?
Is this place currently in your work-in-progress? Could it be? Should it be?
When creating settings we have much to think about.  We need to think about character, about the time and place of the story, but we can also spend some time not thinking, but imagining.  For me, the magic happens when I plumb my own memories, combine those memories with who I know my main character to be, and then and only then do my settings come close to being superb.

Books by Bethany Hegedus:
Grandfather Gandhi (forthcoming Atheneum Books)
Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte Press, releases Oct. 12th!)
Between Us Baxters (WestSide Books/09)
Co-Editor, Hunger Mountain Young Adult & Children's   
readergirlz Austin Host

For more about Bethany, visit her website at:

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