Write With Me Wednesdays: Orient Your Reader to a Place

A writer has a lot of choices when writing and an example of those choices can be seen in all the ways a writer might choose to open a piece of writing.  In the coming weeks, I invite you to experiment with opening sentences as a way to not only generate new material, but also as means to begin the habit of looking for the choices writers make as they work.

This week’s experiment asks you to open your text by orienting your readers to a specific place.  Because most of the comments I’ve received come from those working on blog posts, essays, or short stories, I’m giving examples from those sorts of texts.

Before we look at the examples of writers orienting readers to place, try to think of a text you would write that might open by orienting readers in this way.  If you need help getting ideas for your writing, you can check out my post on developing your writing territories.

Here are some examples of writers who open texts by (among other things) orienting their readers to a place:

William Torgerson Write With Me Wednesdays digital book club social media

Moustafa Bayoumi's How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

“Sade and four of his twenty-something friends are at a hookah café almost underneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn.”

From Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does it Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America.  Notice also the specifics of the name of a bridge and a borough of NYC.  Is it appropriate for you to include these sorts of details? 

 

“Well, a couple weeks ago Stingray and I were prancing up S. Congress Ave after having anointed ourselves with hipster fumes at Jo’s, when this wacked out hipster kid comes careening toward us, chanting nonsense.”

Appeared on  iblamethepatriarchy.com   The word choice is interesting too with words such as “Stingray,” “hipster fumes,” and “careening.”

“On the flatlands of South Los Angeles, blacks and Latinos share neighborhoods of neat houses and broken institutions, a hospital shut down by federal regulators, a community college that has lost its accreditation, police districts where gang crimes fill the blotter.”

by Robert Suro in the Carnegie Reporter.  Not only do we get details, we get relevant details.  The shut down hospital has a lot to do with what the article will be about. 

William Torgerson Love is a Mix Tape Rob Sheffield Write With Me Wednesdays digital book club iTunes

Rob Sheffield's love is a mix tape

 

The playback:  late night, Brooklyn, a pot of coffee, and a chair by the window.  I’m listening to a mix tape from 1993.  Nobody can hear it but me.  The neighbors are asleep.  The skater kids who sit on my front steps, drink beer, and blast Polish hip-hop—they’re gone for the night.

From Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mix Tape.  I haven’t lived in Brooklyn, but I have lived in Indiana, Georgia, and North Carolina.  What details would I give (in the spirit of Sheffield here) that would allow my readers to visit a specific spot in a place I’ve lived or am making up for a story? 

  • Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to write a piece that begins by orienting a reader to a specific place.  I’ve given examples from blogs, scholarly articles from journals, and creative nonfiction.  So it’s a way of opening that can work for all sorts of texts.
  • Once you write a text, feel free to leave a comment on this post with your link, so we can all see what you wrote when it came to orienting a reader to place.
  • Thanks for participating!  I’d love to hear from you.  You can find me on iTunes by going to the store and typing “digital book club.”

Notes For Jan. 17 Music and Movies Book Club


My own novel, Love on the Big Screen, now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

On Monday night Jan. 17 at the Fresh Meadows Barnes and Noble at 7:30, we’ll be discussing Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mix Tape. We’d love to have you join us either face-to-face in the store or else here online with a comment to this blog post.  I also want to share that my novel, Love on the Big Screen, is now available in the states online through Amazon or Barnes and Noble and soon to be available internationally.  Coming soon to Kindle and Nook.

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Rob Sheffield / The Guy:

  • What do you think of the Rob Sheffield you meet in the book?  His relationship with Renee?
  • If you finished the book, what was it that kept you listening to Rob’s story?
  • “I listen to Hey Jude now, and I think two things:  I never want to hear this song again, and in 1979, my dad was around the age I am now, and given a Saturday afternoon he could have spent anyway he pleased, he chose to spend it with his twelve-year-old son, making this ridiculous little tape.  He probably forgot about it the next day.  But I didn’t.”  (17)
  • “How do you turn down the volume on your personal-drama earphones and learn how to listen to other people?”

Love:

  • Do you have a wish list for a potential romantic partner?  Is this sort of mental exercise helpful when it comes to navigating love? (67)
  • When you get married, you hope__________? (129)
  • “If she breaks my heart, no matter what the hell she puts me through, I can say it was worth it, just because of right now.”  (70)
  • What did/do you and your romantic partners fight about?  (102)
  • How do you know when it’s love? (4)

Music:

  • Did/do you make mix tapes?  Tell us about them?
  • Did your parents listen to music?  If you listen, how did you find your way into what you listen to?  Why _______ and not ________?
  • That night, I learned the hard way:  If the girls keep dancing, everybody’s happy.  If the girls don’t dance, nobody’s happy. (34)

Sheffield writes, before Murphy's death, "Remember Brittany Murphy..." / from TheJC.Com

Death / Life:

  • What would you leave behind? (10)
  • The moment when we find out what happened to Renee. (14)  What book did you think you were going to read?
  • Remember Brittany Murphy, the funny, frizzy-haired, Mentos-loving dork in Clueless? By 2002, she was the hood ornament in 8 Mile, just another skinny starlet, an index of everything we’ve lost in that time. (215)
  • Some hope in tragedy:  “We know the universe is out to burn us, and it gets us all the way it got Renee, but we don’t burn each other, not always.”  (167)

Love Can Be Complicated: A Cartoon from Karin Schmitt

As I’ve written before, I was the sort of guy–even before all the eighties romantic comedies I ingested–who could believe I’d fallen in love with a girl even though I’d never talked to her before.  This happened more than once to be sure.   Sometimes I think this is something everyone experiences to some degree, and other times I think I am a certain sort of freak–we all find our ways, right?–and that I’m guilty of projecting my experience onto the experiences of others.  After all, when one of my students says, “I had the typical childhood,” I’m always quick to quiz people around the room about their childhoods.  We often find almost nothing in common.
I write this thinking it’s an obvious observation that many of us romanticize what we think a relationship ought to be, and then we are dissatisfied with relationships when they aren’t are fantasies.  At the recommendation of some of my new Facebook friends, I’m reading Rob Sheffield’s book talking to girls about duran duran. Although I think I know my tendency to romanticize relationships isn’t universal, I see Sheffield has also had this experience.  He writes, “One hundred percent of teenagers dream about making out, but they only dream about making out with 5 percent of other teenagers.  This means our dreams and our realities are barely on speaking terms, so we look forward to making out with people who aren’t real, keeping us in a nearly universal state of teen frustration” (186).  I read Sheffield and I think, “Man Rob, me and you could be buddies,” but then I know that Sheffield is good at what he does, he’s able to tap into the details of his experience that causes a certain circle of people to connect with him, and so he’s probably regularly bombarded with people who approach him calling out, “I loved Morrissey too! We should hang out.”  I teeter totter on a tightrope of tension between universal experience and the uniqueness of each of us.
I have not talked with Karin Krista Schmitt, the artist who drew the cartoon below, about what she “meant” by her drawing.  This seems like another “no, no” I’ve somehow learned:  don’t ask a poet what the poem means.   So whatever I have to say about Karin’s drawing below comes from me, but it comes as a part of a conversation started by her and her work.   I read a piece about the expectations of relationships; I read a text about how life is full of surprises.  There are two fantasies here, and they don’t match up.  Karin is another of my new Facebook friends, living in Germany I think, and when I saw her drawings (in a language I can’t read) I asked her if she might be willing to draw something for my blog and Facebook book page.  I hear lots about how Facebook is such a time waster, and of course it is for many and often for me, but I also think there can be something very exciting happen.  A person told me to read Sheffield and now I am on his second book my yesterday afternoon was better because I sat on a stationary bike for 40 minutes and read.  Karin has sent me this funny and thought-provoking drawing and she has got me thinking…
Karin Schmitt catoon for William Torgerson Love on the Big Screen

Cartoon by Karin Schmitt / see link below for more of her artwork

If you want to take a look at more of Karin’s work, you can find her Facebook here.