Saturday, October 14, 2017

Small Towns in Fiction: Place as (Un)Motivator

What is it about small towns and dark emotions? Having grown up quite happily in a small town, it never ceases to amaze me how places where there are more farm acres than cows accrue so many mythical attributes, particularly in fiction.

Is it me, or are small towns a sort of shorthand for certain tropes, such as...

  • social immobility
  • financial struggle
  • depositories of dark secrets
  • hotbeds of gossip
  • places with horrible high schools

I suppose cities have their own stereotypes involving gangs, Wall Street and high-rise apartments. And, Blue Velvet plus The Stepford Wives has certainly totaled up some assumptions about suburbia.

There's no denying that employing SETTING AS CHARACTER can be a powerful writing technique employed in books as diverse as Wuthering Heights and The Hunger Games. Beyond literature, it is instructive to break down cinematic examples of this strategy, such as Fargo, Breaking Bad, and Lost in Translation.

I recently read and enjoyed two novels set in small towns: PANIC by Lauren Oliver and ALL THE MISSING GIRLS by Megan Miranda. Though one book is an adult murder mystery and the other a young adult novel, both crossed into thriller territory and both are decidedly and critically set in SMALL TOWNS. In PANIC, the town is Carp, while in ...GIRLS, the setting is Cooley Ridge.

The thing that particularly struck me about the role of the small town in these novels was the nuance of its function not so much as a CHARACTER in the novels, although the small-town setting certainly contributed to the stories' tones, so much as the way PLACE functioned as a MOTIVATOR in the stories. In PANIC, characters make choices due to a desire to escape the town and other choices due to a sense that there is no way to escape. In ...GIRLS, the narrator's departure from and return to the town drives twists and turns of the plot, while a sort of social line is drawn between those who have left and those who have stayed in Cooley Ridge.

As you write your manuscript, it might be worth it to pay attention not merely to ways that place can set a tone or evoke emotion, but to ways in which place drives action. Consider:

  • Do characters' manners or other behaviors change due to place?
  • Does being in a given setting impact characters' value systems?
  • If a character had been absent from a given setting, how might your story--and your world--be different?
  • Is your place a starting point or a dead end?
  • How does the setting impact characters' sense of self?

In skilled hands, place can serve multiple functions without the need to complicate the story with extraneous secondary characters. It can be a rainy paradise or a rainbow-hued prison. It can drive a character to madness or lead a character to unexpected love.

Make a list of small-town settings from novels you have read. Do they fit the trope parameters described above? Does the author use the setting to do more than establish mood? What can your setting - be it small town, big city, or something entirely different - do for your writing?

Saturday, October 7, 2017


SATURDAY, October 14, 2017

10:30 AM - 12:30 PM

Second Saturdays Writing Program at Woodinville Library 
17105 Avondale Road NE, Woodinville 

Author (Pyromantic; Hold Me Closer, Necromancer; Firebug) and bookseller LISH McBRIDE returns to the Second Saturdays program to help you dig deep into character. Give fully-developed motivations to your characters’ actions. Make your protagonist more complex and your villain more compelling. A combination of discussion and writing exercises will help you refine this all-important element of your manuscript.

Lish McBrideThis workshop is free and registration is not required. For more details, click here.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Come take my workshop on Saturday: THIS IS YOUR WRITING YEAR

I can hardly believe everyone is back at school and work and, through the horrible haze of the wildfire smoke-clouded air, I can see the faintest glimmer of that beloved dream: A Fall Routine.

I have BIG GOALS, Crazy Dreams, Small Plans, whimsical wishes and a few faint hopes. All of the aforementioned are tied to FINDING TIME. Of course, time is a precious commodity and, in my experience, the first step to achieving some goals is to let others go. To prioritize. To be honest with yourself about what you most want and need, what sacrifices you are willing to make, and what might bring you the greatest happiness.

That said, I hope I believe you'll find it worth your while to join me at the WOODINVILLE LIBRARY (17105 Avondale Road NE, Woodinville, WA) this SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, from 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM for this year's Second Saturdays Writing Program kick-off workshop. Here's the 'press' from the Woodinville Library website:

THIS IS YOUR WRITING YEAR: Ready…set…let’s start our writing year off with a goal, a plan, and a worksheet! Come loaded with dreams and writing ideas and let’s work on strategies for moving your manuscript forward. Author and publishing professional Stasia Ward Kehoe will give you tips and tricks to get organized for your most productive writing year ever.

Let's DO THIS, writer-friends!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My July in Books & Bikes

Trained for five months to prepare for 166 miles of hilly Irish countryside in County Cork and County Kerry (interspersed with pubs and some awesome gin). Worth every moment in the saddle for the views and the incredible sense of powering yourself up, up, up!

Now, I'm back to reality which currently includes a full-time job, volunteer work for my local library, hosting visiting family, parenting, catching a few plays and trying to finish a new YA novel. Truth be told, my kitchen floor could use a sweep...and a vac...and a serious mop. Heck, my whole house has become a refuge for dust and clutter. I've decided to embrace the dust and love it like a sister. (My sister, btw, is one awesome chick so that's some lucky dust.)

Sometimes it's hard to come up with 500 words of fiction after a day describing wacky retail stuff like toddler party dresses and glitter pens and horse bridles. On the other hand, sometimes it's amazing to spend a day flexing the writing muscle so you're good and ready to write about angsty privileged teens and addiction and murder...!!!! Potato, pah-tah-toh, I suppose.

 Of late, I've read...

  • MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides 
  • THE LAST OF AUGUST by Brittany Cavallaro
  • DISGRACE by J. M. Coetzee
  • STAR-CROSSED by Barbara Dee
  • PYROMANTIC by Lish McBride

...and written...NOT ENOUGH.

Fingers crossed for the rest of the summer. 
Hope you're logging words or miles or whatever brings you joy (and, you know, cash).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Are You Struggling to Write? Try Making a Change.

Image result for rainbow cloud

This spring, feeling the repetitive wear of two-decades of freelance work and novel-writing from my kitchen, I went back to "work" -- the kind where you drive to an office, wear a corporate ID badge and have a lunch hour (as opposed to ALL the other kinds of equally valid and challenging types of work that take place outside the walls of buildings sporting logos).

It's been amazing. I realized that having so much unstructured time was making me feel intense pressure to produce more fiction while simultaneously making me, well, blue.
Since rejoining the 9-to-5 (or in my case, since I'm on eastern time 6-2) crowd, I have less time to write and more I want to say. More ideas have come to me as I make my 40-minute commute into Seattle surrounded by mountains, water and cars, than in the four daily hours I labored in my home office.

Maybe it will get old. Maybe I'll start being jealous of all those scads of unaccountable time. But, for now, for today, going back on the clock seems to have set me free.

I'm still teaching, freelancing and coordinating writing classes on the side. I've got less time for my fiction but it feels like it's going better. And I've got less time social media, which is probably a good thing, too. So many thoughts to share about creativity and the internet and politics (ah!) but I also have less time to post here on the website. Hopefully, this too will be less frequent but better quality.

I hope you're writing this spring. If you're struggling, if you're in a dark place, I encourage you to try shifting up the old life. Don't be afraid of losing writing time. Sometimes that's the sacrifice you need to make...FOR THE WRITING.

One person's opinion.

Happy wave from my less-frequented kitchen desk!