Something Happened Here

Today, I offer a writing prompt that I learned from from Summer Wood (author or Wrecker & Arroyo) during a weeklong workshop at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference in the summer of 2009.  The class was focused on place (she’s teaching the weekend version of the course this summer and a master class on the novel for the week).  Looking back, my week with Summer deepened my understanding of how to write about Setting/Place.

I wrote underneath this Gazebo in the Taos Plaza as a part of Summer's course

The way I understand it, there are several ways of looking at place within your writing.  Here are a few:

1.  There are the  events that have occurred within and shaped a place.  For instance, the earthquake that rocked Candlestick park during the 1989 World Series, the terrible events that have devastated Japan over the last few days, a consciousness of New York City and how it changed pre. vs. post 9-11.

2.  There are the stories & details specific to the space itself.  The crack in the sidewalk from the growing tree root that people always tripped on.  The glacial formation of Half Dome in Yosemite.  The Doelger houses of San Francisco that inspired the theme song “Little Boxes” in the television show Weeds.

3.  Then, and this was the most important one for me, there are the stories a person brings to a space–something that one writer at AWP described as a mind-scape within a landscape.  The idea is that places hold stories for our characters.  For example, whenever I walk through a certain part of the UC Berkeley campus, I remember the first time I drove through it.  I was seventeen years old and my family and I were visiting my aunt in Oakland.  On the way out of town, we took a brief, but formative detour through the southern half of the campus.  The sky was gray and overcast and the buildings giant, majestic pillars of academic life.  To this day, I cannot see the Life and Sciences building without remembering the way I’d known with complete clarity that one day I would become Berkeley student.

On a related note, it also took me almost three years before I realized that inside that majestic building were Dinosaur bones. And I have a story about the first time I saw this skeleton on my way to a class.

It is this third option that inspires the writing exercise.  Write a scene where a character encounters a memory trapped/stuck/ingrained within a specific space.  The prompt:

Something happened here…

One thought on “Something Happened Here

  1. Cool, Sam! So glad to see you deepen and expand the thought. I’m reading a book you might enjoy — Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas — that addresses a lot of these issues of place and the stories it can contain.

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