Word Pictures


Envisioning the story is the most basic building block for all story tellers, whether the story is a factual retelling or a fantasy occurring in the mind of the author. People, time, and place all create a framework from which to hang the elements of the tale. Creating an image of the location in the mind of the audience is an exciting challenge, regardless of the objective of story.

The adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ now comes to mind. How many words does it take to draw a picture in the mind of the listener or reader? Do you wax eloquent, using paragraphs and pages to bring elaborate detail or do you think more poetically and beautifully brief? For example, the title Snow Falling on Cedars immediately paints a picture. The picture will be different for everyone, but nonetheless clear in their mind’s eye.

For Shadow Ballet I chose a location I often visited as a child. My memories are filled with days spent on the beach with my Nana, brother, and cousins. Describing the sweeping grandeur of the location required a couple sentences, but then was fleshed out by the interaction of the characters. The geology and geography is the result of tectonic plates at the northern end of the San Andreas fault, the ebb and flow of the great glaciers, and the influences and impact of the weather.

The rise and fall of ocean levels has created the lagoons, building barriers of sand and gravel to trap the water of small streams and in two instances, mix it with the briny waters of the Pacific Ocean. The water is relatively shallow, usually cold enough to make a fine habitat for salmon and steelhead. Of the two brackish lagoons, only Big Lagoon has been developed with housing. The wonderful thing about creating a story in a familiar place is that you are free to play with the details. For instance, while there are several small cabins atop the bluff, I tinkered with the placement and architecture, and then added a non-existent street and houses behind them as well as a campground on the east shore. I tried to remain true to the climate, the forest, the beach, and the character of the towns whose names I used, but took whatever liberties felt correct to build my story.

There are many ways to describe a setting and all are good. I try to create a living picture with my descriptions. In closing, I offer a brief passage about the ending of day.

Lengthening shadows reached out to pull the blanket of night across the land.


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