My Antonia

Lesson 68 Chapter 1 Module 7

As we move into Week Six, we’ll continue focusing on the building blocks of storytelling and writing, with Settings and Surroundings.

Today’s lesson is one that I read first when I was 10 years old, and it has stuck with me ever since.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am more than a few years older than 10 years old.

It’s a novel by Willa Cather, about a community of people settling into Nebraska in the United States at the turn of the 20th century.

While the novel focuses on the community (and a few characters in particular, notably a woman named Antonia), Cather also deftly and memorably describes the landscape and surroundings of the community.

The book was written at a time when the American public was still in love with the romantic ideals of westward expansion and settlers, when the actual Oregon Trail was still a thing (and not just a virtual simulation.)

Had you ever read a post, article, story, or novel that was written so descriptively that you felt like you were there. You could picture everything in your mind and almost sense the scene unfolding around you?

When that happens, you know that someone is writing the setting well.

The secret is not to describe things like a forensic report.

You may have heard (and rolled your eyes so far into the back of your head that you saw spinal fluid) the writing adage that you must “show, not tell” and that applies especially to settings.

You don’t want to tell people it is sunny, you want to explain to people how the sunshine hit the laundry and warmed the main character’s skin.

This isn’t just for the beautiful poetic writing we’ve looked at before, but it serves a more important purpose.

Remember Aristotle’s logic of action from Week 4?

People engage with and are compelled to take action when something affects their mind or their desire.

Knowing it is sunny is a passing fact. We, as humans, like facts and knowing things.

But we remember books, nearly 30 years later, when we are so engaged with the writing that we feel like the sun might actually be warm on our skin and there might be a snake in the grass, feet away from us.

It’s something to consider when “setting the scene” in your manuscript or article.

Are you telling them about the surroundings and circumstances that got us here?

Or are you showing them how those surrounding and circumstances affect the the characters in the piece—and, in turn, how they might affect the reader themselves?

PS - For the next two weeks, you’ll notice we’re taking a break from quotes and moving to article titles for the second half of your copywork assignments. Again, there’s a method to the madness, and I’ll have more details for you in your Seventh Writing Prompt.

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