Monday, March 19, 2012

Mystery Monday #25

Welcome to our regular Monday feature, where you'll find different kinds of writing prompts and exercises. Each week, we'll give you something to help exercise your mystery-writing muscles.

Our Tuesday theme this month is settings in mysteries for young readers. So today's prompt is designed to help you zoom closer into a setting--and maybe even discover a mystery hidden in there.

To start, choose a setting. We're going to be digging for the details that make a setting come alive in a reader's mind, so make sure it's a time and place you know well. Maybe it's your bedroom. Or a classroom. Maybe it's the inside of minivan. Or your birthday party last summer.

Next, can you find any photos of it? I use them in my writing to help me notice the details. If you really want to immerse yourself, there's nothing better than taking a field trip and taking some photos and notes.
This is one of the photos of the old school I used for setting inspiration when writing the upcoming MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT.
Now, write a description of the setting. Include the little details--the chipped countertop, the engine light that is on in the car. But don't stop there. Close your eyes. How would you describe it using your other senses? What's the smell of a girls' locker room? What does a campfire sound like? How does the tile floor feel on bare feet?

Now, take a step back. What kind of mood do you want to set? Go back and look at your description again. Are there any words that you could change to help evoke that mood more? Sometimes just a more specific verb--sat vs. hunched--or a word change--yellow or acid green?--can slant the whole tone of a piece.

Now, finally, pick one detail from your description. It may be the most interesting. Or maybe it's something that everyone would overlook. Why is it there? How did it come to be?

This is where your story starts . . .

This is what I would call a prewriting activity. You might want to use this description, or you might not. Sometimes writers just need to have a strong sense of setting in their heads; the actual details never find their way to the story.

But most likely, there are some gems in that description. If you do use them, be careful. You probably don't want to plunk your description in as a whole paragraph. Long descriptions tend slow down the action and pace of a story--something that is crucial when writing both mysteries and for kids. Instead, sprinkle in those details--the more specifc, the better--throughout your whole scene.

Happy writing!

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