Saturday, December 19, 2009

Into the Woods

The Shadow on the Tree--John Ritchie Fl-1858-1875

I’d promised my daughter I’d take her to the mall, one of her favorite places. I wonder sometimes if the stork brought me the wrong baby; she and I are so different.

I only intended to buy one or two things for the couple of people I had left on my Christmas list. But then…

It was all so…pretty… in the mall. The lights sparkled, it was cheerful and happy. Everyone was loaded down with bags. The mall played determinedly cheerful Christmas music. My bags multiplied. My daughter told me, “It was the glamour! Deadly glamour.”

It was a setting that meant business. The mall owners had gotten their setting perfect. You felt like spending money at South Park Mall. And the mall owners wouldn’t have it any other way.

Since I’m not a setting fanatic, I’ve always been interested in prêt-à-porter, ready to wear settings.

Anytime I tell my children a fairy tale and the characters go into the woods, there are certain expectations. Nothing good ever happens in the woods in fairy tales. We have witches with houses made of candy, wolves who eat grannies and children, and bears who dislike trespassers.

So that type of thing is fun and easy. Readers have certain expectations regarding dark basements in spooky houses, amusement parks, church sanctuaries, graveyards, etc.

It’s also fun and fairly easy to turn the expectations around.

The happy meadow in Bambi is also the ideal place for hunters to take clear aim at deer, for instance.

You can take your reader’s expectations about a setting and turn them upside down—introduce the element of danger to a safe place. A depressing setting (crack house?) could be the location for a life-changing epiphany for your protagonist.

Maybe the next time we go into the woods, things will be a little different there.