Tracking Love – a short story by Madelon Smid

Chug-a-chug-a, chug-a-chug-a had become as much a part of Sara as her heart beat. She sat in the glass domed observation car of the trans Canada train and felt the deep rumbling around her, under her, inside her. She didn’t want to be there, so she pushed out her lower lip in her trademark pout, in an attempt to add to her mother’s sense of guilt.

Her younger brother, Russ, craned his neck, hoping to see the engine as they went around a curve, while Sara’s younger sister waltzed her Barbie doll across the wide velour seat. Like Becky, she didn’t want to go to White Rock for Christmas. There was no appeal in cramming themselves into their grandfather’s small condo. They wanted to be home with their friends, surrounded by the familiar, comfortable in their own rooms, with their toys for entertainment. But against all their whining and complaining, their mom had moved forward with her plans. This first Christmas after their father’s death, she insisted they spend in B.C. (Before Christmas was wrecked).

Outside the glass enclosing them like a cage, towering mountains jabbed the clouds. Sara had never seen so much snow. White had tumbled from the sky since they’d gotten on the train in Biggar, SK and followed them like an avenging angel across the prairies, through the foothills and into these looming caverns of rock. It muffled the train’s strained beat as the engine pulling twenty-two cars lumbered up the side of a mountain, slower, slower, snail’s pace slow. The conductor had announced at breakfast they were already three hours behind schedule. Sara felt like the sky had engulfed her, swallowed her whole. She would be trapped in this dismal world forever.

She’d wanted to stay in the compartment and lose herself in a book. Her mother had other ideas. “You’ll never have an opportunity to see such wonderful scenery again. Now, quit sulking and come with me.” Sara practiced small rebellions all the time. But wise to her ways, her mother rejected all Sara’s excuses and pleas, and gave her the look. Sara had no power against this weapon, because you never outright disobeyed a parent. Besides, disappointing Mom always made her gut churn like the old washer agitating clothes behind their summer cabin. Sara scoffed at the world of grey outside the glass dome, making certain her mother heard the mocking sound. She never wanted to see this scenery again. Her mother was selfish, and mean, dragging her away from home at Christmas. Sara curled her legs under her on the cold leather seat and thought of her boyfriend. He was such a hunk. He made her feel safe when he held her. She wouldn’t see him for two weeks now. How could her mother do this to her?

“Play with me, Sara. You promised.” Even though she was sixteen, Sara grabbed the second Barbie and threw herself into Becky’s game, imagining her boyfriend was the prince and she was waltzing in his arms. Pretending was the only thing that helped her escape the reality of her father’s death … for a few minutes. Her mother had sewn them each extensive wardrobes for their dolls. They had far more clothes than most their friends, exquisite ball gowns of sheer, floating fabric, miniature blue jeans and sweaters, nylon stockings and glamorous hats. “Serena is going to the ball, and will win prince charming away from all the other girls,” she declared, as she slid her doll into a gown of pale green net over a silky underskirt.

“No way. The prince already loves Caroline.” Becky twirled her doll across the seat for emphasis.

The eerie sound of the whistle pierced her thoughts as the train approached a tunnel dug into the side of the mountain. Sara gasped for air when they chugged into the dark hole. Would an avalanche swoop down out of the invisible world above, raining rock and snow on them, burying them alive? The world turned black as they wound deeper, the slithering snake of a train seeking a lair, somewhere away from the cold and endless falling snow. She held her breath as the chug-a-chug-a slowed. Would the train stop, trapped by some unseen obstacle, leaving them saturated in darkness?

Then a glimmer of light fell at the front of the car, like the brief lifting of a curtain onto the day. She sucked in air, realizing she’d starved her body of oxygen. What a miserable time. Her mother faced the window, her eyes blank, skin tight and pale, against bones that hadn’t been so prominent months earlier. A wet line tracked her cheek. Sara tried to imagine how she felt, being left alone with five children at the age of forty-five. But as soon as she thought of her father, she felt like a sumo wrestler had leapt on her crushing her into the floor. Tears filled her eyes and pain stabbed her heart like the jagged points of broken ribs.

“Lytton, B.C.” The conductor’s booming voice filled the observation car, as he stepped through the door. Icy air and a blast of carbon smelling fuel accompanied him. Sara hunched into her sweater, wishing she’d worn her jacket, while her mom stopped the conductor. “Sorry Ma’am. We’ve lost another forty minutes with the heavy snow. We won’t be getting into your station until 6:45 tonight.” He checked his pocket watch, cocked his head to the side and closed his eyes. Snapping them open and catching Sara staring at him, he winked, nodded his head at he mother. “Yep, 6:45 if we don’t have further delays.” Mom’s shaky sigh accompanied him out of the car.

“Grandpa’s going to be sitting at that station a long time.” Her voice sounded weary and worried, much like it had for months. Sara pressed against her mother’s side. She curled her legs under her and twisted a strand of hair around and around her finger. Her mother shifted so that Sara sank more heavily against her soft body. For a few seconds she forgot where they where and why, and soaked up comfort, but that wasn’t her mission. She wanted to give comfort, as well. When her mother’s body relaxed and she slanted her a smile, Sara felt as good as when she’d won the badminton championship at school.

Lunchtime released them from the prison of the glass car. They went down the stairs, and lurched their way along the length of the train from one car to the next. Sarah like struggling with the heavy metal doors, holding them open for Mom and Becky, then hearing the hissing weight as they sealed behind her. By the time they reached the dining car, saliva flooded her mouth and her stomach gave an impatient growl. Seated at a table with white linen and heavy sterling, CPR engraved on each piece, she chose from a menu as good as any restaurant. While Becky asked for her inevitable grilled cheese sandwich and fries, and her mother chose a bowl of soup and crackers, which Sara bet would be only half eaten, she decided on Hungarian goulash. She loved trying new foods, and hoped she’d like this choice as much as her chicken pastry from the night before. She’d seen Zaza Gabor on television and read in a movie magazine that she came from Hungary and loved goulash with paprika.

“At this rate, your sister and brother will get there ahead of us.” Mom passed the basket of warm bread to Russ.

“Why couldn’t we all fly? It would have been a lot better than this.” Sara muttered.

“You know your brother had work and Hannah had exams and couldn’t take off the days needed to travel by train. I thought this would be a real treat for you.”

“I like riding on the train.” Russ handed the basket on to Becky.

Sara spooned up her goulash. Outside the wide window white flakes fell, landing on the glass. Like runway models, they paused so she could admire their intricate shapes, before they melted and glided down the smooth surface. In a trance-like state she finished her meal.

But contentment was ephemeral. Within an hour the train was stopped by an avalanche ahead on the tracks. She tried to think good things – at least the tons of snow and torn out trees wasn’t on top of them. But as the hours passed and her mother’s face grew more pinched, her eyes darker with strain, Sara cursed the snow, the tracks necessary to carry the train, the engineer and men moving the obstruction. They were six hours behind schedule when they pulled into the tiny station perched in a narrow valley, where they would meet Grandpa.

Night had long since fallen, and darkness ruled as they stepped onto the wooden platform. The steward set their suitcases onto the wind swept planks. Mom thanked him and gave him a tip. She’d given Russ the tip for the conductor, who’d been so good to them. Russ had it folded neatly in his hand, and stepped forward. Whatever he said was washed away by the wind, but Sara saw him shake the man’s hand and transfer the money, somewhat awkwardly. He turned with a wide grin of satisfaction. The conductor tipped his hat and waved as he picked up the metal step he’d set down for them, and leapt back onto the train. “All aboard,” the conductor called into the gusts of wind. “All aboard.” But no one waited to step onto the train. The station seemed deserted. Mother herded us inside, her head swivelling around the chilly room as she looked for her father. He wasn’t there. A clerk dozed behind the counter, a slice of bald head visible through the small opening where the business of purchasing tickets happened. Mom’s steps lacked the lightness and speed with which she usually moved. “I wonder if there has been an older gentleman waiting here earlier?”

“Ha’n’t seen anybody all day.” He pushed his narrow frame upright, causing the swivel chair to protest in a series of high squeaks.

“May I use your phone to place a call, then?”

“Sorry Ma’am. The phone lines are down somewhere between here and White Rock. Can’t help you.”

Mom wobbled a few steps and sank onto a wooden bench. “Oh no. What now?”

“Maybe the snow held Grandpa up, too.” Sara took her mom’s hand. “Come sit by the stove, Mom. You’ll be warmer.” Once she had her mom closer to the heat, and Becky tucked in beside her, Sara went outside and looked all around. Russ followed her, swooping from one side of the platform to the other, like an owl riding the currents. The wind swept the snow into banks that, in turn, exposed and covered the deck. A ridge was already collecting along the bottom of their suitcases. With a last look at the empty parking lot, and the bushy sides of the looming mountains, she seized the two of the suitcases and hauled them inside. Becky was asleep, lying with her head on her mother’s lap, her legs curled along the hard bench, covered with mother’s coat. She shivered and leaned a little closer to the stove. She tightened her lips. Why did her mom always have to sacrifice her comfort for someone else’s? Russ carried in a case that banged against his knees with every step. Sara slammed back through the door to get the last case. Pacing on the platform she gulped in huge mouthfuls of air, trying to smother the tumult inside her. She hated her mother for dragging her out here, for always putting duty before fun, for being so busy with her clubs and doing stuff for old people that she never had time for Sara. “Bloody hell!” The fire of rebellion heated her blood as she sang out words she was forbidden to say. In seconds a flurry of snow down he collar cooled her brief revolt. Shoulders hunched, Sara hefted the last suitcase and stomped inside.

Slamming the case onto the floor, and her butt into the furthest bench from her mother, didn’t alleviate her anger, at her mother for forcing her to come, at Grandpa for not being there, at Becky for getting all the comfort and warmth of her place beside Mom. Her mom hadn’t even reacted to all her noise. Sara stewed, mixing in a dozen slights and remembered wrongs until the flavor was so bitter she couldn’t stomach the taste. Talk about selfish. She was the queen! Right now Mom needed her father, stepmother and sister for support. During one of Sara’s rants she’d tried to explain her decision. “I can’t face the memories of past Christmas’s at home with your dad. All our friends will visit and offer condolences, again. Each time it brings your father’s death so close – too real. I can’t deal with losing him.”

With a heavy sigh breathed into the chilly room, Sara crossed to her Mom’s case and took out a sweater. “Mom, put this over Becky’s legs and wear your jacket. You’re going to get so chilled you catch a cold.” Her mother’s smile was sweet and non judgmental. She did as Sara asked. “Sit with us.” Her quiet voice held strength. Sara had watched her face every obstacle caused by her father’s sudden death, with courage and dignity. She had utter faith in her mom. She settled down on the other side of her, and packing her angst away gave her mom as much comfort as she’d take.

For two hours they waited. Sara’s stomach burned from anxiety. What would they do if Grandpa couldn’t get there, if they were trapped for days in the tiny station with no food? At least there was a bathroom. Sara entertained Becky and Russ as best she could, choosing word games and singing the alphabet song until they couldn’t think of one more nursery rhyme. And then something special happened. Mom started talking about growing up on the farm, about Grandpa and Gramma as a young couple with two girls. About how her younger sister, Arlene, had followed Grandpa around like a real tomboy, and how Gran had had to cut off her knee length hair because she had heart disease from getting rheumatic fever as a child. Sara learned that Gran was so afraid of giving her daughter’s her illness that she never hugged them. She tried to imagine how her mother felt. No hugs! Mom’s hugs were the best in the world. And she hadn’t gotten any herself. Right then Sara vowed she would hug Mom several times each day. Everybody deserved love, even if they did make you do things you resented. As she focused on her mother’s life instead of her own perceived injuries, she began to see how hard this Christmas was for her mom. There had always been a pattern around Christmas, woven about their father’s business, their parents’ friends. Long days of baking and storing the goodies away required for the big Christmas Eve party, where all Dad’s clients and employees came to the house. Their Dad buying the tree and bringing it home, then watching from the couch as mom and kids decorated, while Debussy played on the record player and the fire crackled. They got to have cokes a rare treat, and a teeny bit of the baking. “We have to save it for our guests.” Duty bound Mom, always doing the correct thing according to society, not always what was best for her family. Sara could see her mom was too frail to take on any of those traditions this year, and could imagine how much she missed her partner’s help. Now, they both wanted their fathers. And if only one of them could have that, she was happy for Mom. She led her sister in a round of Christmas carols.

Finally the door to the stationhouse banged open. Grandpa stood backlit by the falling snow. “Kathleen,” I’m so sorry I’m late. Six foot two, enveloped in a grey wool overcoat, he strode across the floor and pulled Mom onto her feet so he could hug her. It lasted a long time, and Sara could see Mom was trying hard not to cry. Sara remembered how good she felt snuggled in her dad’s strong arms. She used to sit on his lap Sunday afternoon while he read the paper and smoked his one cigar of the week. When she was much younger, she’d pretended to be asleep when they got home from the drive-in so he would carry her up to bed. She always felt safe with her dad, and now she realized that’s probably what he mother wanted – to feel safe in a world that had turned upside down and tumbled her out. Sara’s gut clenched as she remembered all the nasty little acts, mean words and digs she’d aimed at her mom the last weeks, as if it was Mom’s fault dad had died. Grandpa turned and gave her a long look. “You’ve grown up since I saw you last. Have you been doing a good job of looking after your mom?”

“No Grandpa, but I will from now on.”



My Review of Broken Trust by C.B. Clark

Coming out of an abusive marriage, Natasha Hartford, illustrator, has little reason to trust anyone, especially Detective Chase Brandon, who considers her a suspect in a murder. Caught up in a situation caused by her ex-husband, Natasha works with Chase as the body count rises. While he insists on guarding her, and she insists on helping him, the feelings between them grow. Hartford does a good job of showing me the building attraction, despite the distrust that continues between the two protagonists. The author inscribes detailed scenes that impress like hieroglyphics—no doubt because of her work as an archeologist. She has a gift for getting inside her protagonists heads. The continual fast pace of the plot satisfied my need for action and intrigue.

From Daring Heights – Writing a Series

I didn’t start out with the ambition of writing a series. I thought I could handle a trilogy with confidence, framed the concept around three brilliant men who meet at Harvard and built on it. I embraced Climbing High, the first book, with enthusiasm, the second, High Ground, with trepidation and the third, High Seas, with love. When the senior editor for my line suggested I had the material for a series and should proceed with one, I leapt on the idea. I did not want to let go of characters I had created, and come to know. They had much more to teach me through their philosophies, actions and feelings. It was a delight to move into book four.

In a recent interview with the “Prairie Post” I was asked, which was my favourite and least favourite book of the series. Reaching High, book four, RG Gribb’s story was easily my favourite. Here I unfold the secret connection between Jake Inglis and RG, to which I allude in the first three books. I left the reader wondering, what had brought the two men together, and resulted in RG giving Jake his intense loyalty and trust. RG, who had no expectations of finding love, moved into his forties dedicated to protecting Jake and his family and expecting nothing more for himself. Suddenly he has it all – a thriving business, a demanding job, and a woman he adores, who wants him, too. Their story flowed onto the page, because it was so integral to my hopes of what I felt this good man and wounded warrior deserved. I also focused on the epidemic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among military personnel, a subject close to my heart.

My least favourite – well, that wasn’t because of the fascinating characters Joshua and Cat – but because of a technical mistake I made in plotting. Josh is an IT genius, who writes security software for government agencies around the world. There, already you have a brain full. Imagine reading the better part of an opening chapter that deals with technical terms, computer geek thinking and Zen philosophy. It was a ponderous start, and in hind sight I wished I’d chosen a better place to begin the story. However, it does pick up momentum and races to a fast action finish with lots of suspense. In fact, I garnered my best reviews on High Ground.

Book five, High Risk, felt like a play date in the park, fast, furious and fun. I revelled in the process of creating two diverse lives and weaving them together into an unbreakable strand, while exploring more of the fascinating history and geography of Hong Kong.

Writing book six was truly a pleasure, as I chose to weave in personal history from my husband’s side of the family. I was intensely invested in my two protagonists. Though Anna was new to this book, Anton had been introduced in book four and his enigmatic persona challenged me to dig deeper. As I forced my way beneath his complex layers of pain, patience and protection, I found my perfect male. I also enjoyed exploring the older woman, younger man relationship that gave Anna so much inner conflict.

Writing the series went smoothly, the editing not so much. By the time I finished, my publisher had assigned three different editors, each with their idiosyncrasies around word usage and punctuation – not my strong suit, especially when it is so subjective these days. I was writing and publishing two books a year, the goal I’d set, but book six stopped my momentum dead. The writing was on target and time, but getting it edited was a long drawn out process of one delay after another. A year and a half after submission Sky High will finally be launched worldwide. A goal met, a series concluded, with mega learning along the way.

You can purchase print books at or The Wild Rose Press or download a digital book on any e-reader.


Retreat Into Writing

Six of our Prairie Quills members ventured afield for a writing retreat this weekend. On a sun gilded afternoon we travelled across wide stretches of flat prairie settled by French, Flemish and Belgian immigrants to Gravelbourg, where we stopped and stayed at Bishop’s Residence. The facility is set-up for individual and group dynamics and conducive to writers finding the peace and solitude they seek.

Gravelbourg, a beautiful town, well maintained and proud of its heritage is a must see to any Saskatchewan tourist. Delightful shops, beautiful buildings and snippets of French history are waiting around each corner.

One of many beautiful paintings done by Father Mayllard on linoleum in the 1930’s

A Saturday late morning tour of the Cathedral paintings and the convent great hall and paintings served as inspiration and triggered a greater thrust of creativity in the afternoon. Of course, we didn’t exclude a trip to Café Paris for a delicious lunch. Some members found strolling through town (population 1100), and taking in the beautiful architecture of clay brick buildings built in the 1930’s, served them well.

Saturday evening Peggy Worrell led the group in a mini workshop on 8 Ways to Make Your Characters Come to Life. Members applied the exercise to one of their works in progress, and all felt the process improved their piece and moved it forward. I re-worked a story I’d written about a fellow in the French Foreign Legion who makes some bad choices that affect the remainder of his life. During the exercise, I realized I had an abrupt transition between the climax and the conclusion, and was able to add material that spoke to the second protagonists motivation, and thus improve the piece.

I find it fascinating to read pieces I wrote years ago. I sometimes question if I even wrote it, or what motivated me to write it. Sometimes I am astonished by the excellence of the piece, and assume a higher power was working through me, for I can’t perceive formulating such thoughts on my own.

Workshop: 8 Ways to Make Your Characters Come to Life

Querying those who took part I learned Peggy enjoyed the camaraderie with other writers, while Irene Bingham liked the peaceful atmosphere with no interruptions from telephones or TV. Dianne Miller said the discussions on writing motivated her and noted the vivacious synergy created by the group. Newly appointed President, Tina Letwiniuk appreciated the atmosphere of Bishop’s House, and felt it allowed for, and stimulated creativity and our growth as a writing group. I most enjoyed the sharing times when writing formed the basis for dynamic discussion on writing styles, routines, rules and brainstorming.

Cozy breakfast gathering at Bishops’s Residence

Cozy breakfasts in the bright dining room provided a relaxed forum for sharing of writing techniques and new learning. We financed the majority of our retreat with a writing grant awarded to the group by SWG. Those who attended feel we received maximum benefit from the monies designated to help writing groups develop their writing skills

My conclusion to our storybook retreat – don’t check this experience off your list. There are as many things left to discover as we unearthed this time around. It is an ideal location for writers who long for the physical, mental and spiritual space to write.



WRITE YOUR LIFE – Session #5

Shape your ideas, dreams, anecdotes and memories

 into fascinating stories to share.

Exercise #1

Take the brief write-up of your dream and analyze it, identifying the following: POV, tone, mood, setting

Exercise #2

Using your dream paragraph as a starting point, write a short story, expanding the dream in any direction you want. E.g. fantasy, horror, comedy e.g. add characters, change setting, set POV.

Exercise #3

Work through the checklist below, writing out your answers, and using them to flesh in the character(s) in your story.

Checklist for Character Development

I think my characters are very normal, very typical people.

But I’m assuming the range of what is normal is very wide.

Mary Gaitskill 

  1. Ask yourself why? for everything your character does. Know your character’s motivation.
  2. Do you know how your character will act in the situations you place her in? Show how.
  3. Does your character have a dominant character trait and a subdominant trait? i.e. loyalty (strength), stubbornness (weakness). These can be effective tool for writing short stories.
  4. Do the characters experience conflict?
  5. Do you use one of the following to allow the reader to see the character’s emotions?Dialogue – words, tone and attitude show character’s emotionInterior dialogue thoughts – not about feelings but about what is causing feelings
  6. Setting – becomes a metaphor for the character’s feelings
  7. Action – behavior expresses feelings (i.e. striding, charging, tiptoeing)
  8. Does your character pull on the reader’s heartstrings?
  9. Does each character have his or her distinct voice?
  10. Do you make clear from whose Point of View you are writing?
  11. Is the dialogue effective?
  12. Do you use the simplicity of a minute detail to describe your characters? (read the great Russian writers: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gorky, Chekov – they are masters at this technique)
  13. Do you hear the underlying voice (your voice)? What picture of the writer does the reader get?
  14. Do you dole out character information a small bit at a time throughout the story, rather than dump it all on the first page.

A writer’s knowledge of himself, realistic and unromantic, is like a store of energy on which he must draw for a lifetime;

one volt of it properly directed will bring a character alive.

Graham Greene

How To Use Your Stories as Gifts

  • Tell a story about a person on a special occasion (wedding, anniversary)
  • Make a video and share it on a special occasion or at a family gathering.
  • Tape an absent member and play for gathering of connected people.
  • Self-publish a collection of your stories – family, community – give them as gifts or market them
  • Write out a story or collection and give it to each person in the family (Christmas, Easter or Valentines)
  • Sell your stories to periodicals or local news media
  • Send copies of your published stories to the people you interviewed for them
  • Use stories as quotes or inserts in photo albums
  • Use them as Eulogies at memorial services
  • Collect them as valuable information for an adopted child or a parent who has given up a child.
  • Write letters to a particular person (grandchild) that are collected for them to have as adults, these letters trace events in their life from your POV
  • Write or present poems or stories that honor someone you know –e.g., roast of a colleague
  • Write dramas for local church, community events, special occasions

Affirmation: My life has value. People are interested in knowing about me. My words have value.  I am creative and able to write my stories and the stories of others.

Assignment: Keep collecting ideas and writing stories from them.


Contact and request a customized course designed to help you meet your writing goals. I have an 88% rate of success. The 12% that don’t succeed give up on writing. I don’t give up on them.

Courses run from four to eight sessions, and are timed to your writing schedule (every week, two weeks, etc.) and are designed from beginner to advanced levels of writing.




Write About Where you live(d)

Share your culture, your community and your geography


What is the author’s attitude toward his subject? When the reader answers this question, he or she will be reflecting on your tone, or the mode in which you choose to write your piece.

The Tragic Mode

In this curriculum the tragic mode goes beyond the dramatic concept of tragedy in which a hero of high estate is brought to destruction because of a flaw in his own character. Here, the tragic mode includes, as well, plays in which ordinary men are destroyed by their environment, poems which reveal a pessimistic view of life, works which discuss tragedy rather than present it, and generally, works which are dominated by doubt, sadness, despair, disillusionment, or some other sombre mood.

The Comic Mode

In the comic mode the author has selected and controlled his material so that the reader is amused and entertained. The characters and their problems engage the reader’s delighted attention without unduly arousing his concern, for he knows that the mishaps are never catastrophic and that all will turn out well in the end.

The Romantic Mode

The romanticist sees everything as a little bit better than real. His rose-colored glasses soften the harsh outlines of what is ordinarily ugly or painful to make it endurable or even appealing. He often idealizes the circumstances of life, especially what is remote in terms of either time or distance, and extols the simple virtues to make them appear greater or more abundant that they really are.

Valuing as he does what is simple, spontaneous and natural he tends to put great faith in his emotions and to look disparagingly on authority, discipline and social convention.

Listed under the romantic mode are poems that deal with love, beauty, patriotism, devotions, nature and youth; stories and plays that celebrate adventure, sacrifice, heroism, intrigue, romantic love and triumph over adversity; and non-fiction that tends to be personal and impressionistic rather than objective and analytical.

The Ironic Mode

Irony involves a contrast between what is and what could be – between what we expect and what we get. Whether we look at an individual’s deeds and goals or at mankind’s we see that they are often inappropriate to what we regard as valid circumstance. The twentieth century, which has won so many of the goals set by earlier generations, is marked perhaps more than any other by dissatisfaction, despair and violence. The loving go unloved, the hungry remain unfed, and the unworthy exercise power.

This kind of incongruity is one of the striking realities of human life and has always been a preoccupation of the author and poet. That it is so much in evidence today no doubt accounts for the tone of so much twentieth century writing, especially that of the sixties and seventies: the protest songs, plays and novels by “angry young men” and even the cynical humor of some television skits and monologues.

However, a contrast between expectation and actual outcome is not always a cause for outrage. Sometimes writers use the ironic situations in human affairs to intrigue or amuse the reader.

The philosophic Mode

The philosophic writer is the one whose works tend to be thoughtful, speculative and quite possibly inconclusive rather that factual and definitive. His writings might deal with the quest for knowledge, or be reflections upon the nature of good and evil, man’s destiny, man’s relations with his fellow man and with God, or death.

The philosophic mode is certainly not one that excludes qualities we see in other modes, no do other modes exclude the philosophic. A moment’s consideration of Hamlet, for example, shows the futility of regarding any mode as an exclusive category or, conversely, of considering any major work to be representative of only one mode. *mode denotes tonal quality

Exercise #1

Choose one of the tones for your writing voice, and tell the story of your photo – the place you lived – with that tone. E.g. humorous, philosophical etc. Stay consistent throughout.


Introducing mood deals with the emotions the author makes the reader feel in less direct ways – by sounds of the words she uses, the length and rhythm of sentences, the choice of images and their associations.

“Sometimes tone and mood are most effective when they are mismatched.”

Damon Knight; Creating Short Fiction; Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH; 1981

Knight’s comments explain the difference between tone and mood better than any other I have read. You can see that both are necessary in your writing.  Tone has a great deal to do with the writer’s voice – preferred style.  Mood is specific to the particular piece and will vary from scene to scene, character to character.

You can use different techniques to set your mood. Consider the difference between long flowing sentences and short choppy ones, a series of words used in a paragraph that have soft sibilant sounds (s, sh, f, soft c’s) and a set that repeat sharp, attacking consonants (hard g, h, k, hard c).

Exercise #2

Using the photo from one of the places you lived (assigned as homework), write a short paragraph describing the place in each of the following moods.

  • The character just received word he’s sold his book. (e.g. the room/building/landscape would appear brighter with light and colors, smell like roses, the sound of feet dancing over the tiles)
  • The character has just visited a dying friend. (e.g. room might appear sterile, empty, )
  • The character has received a threatening phone call. “I’m coming to kill you.” (e.g. shadows are ominous, closets are big enough to hide a killer, suspicious sounds abound)

“The novelist works with the things that pass unobserved by others,

captures them in motion, brings them out into the open.”  Joao Guimaraes Rosa


Setting is about images. Consider the images you choose to include in a scene, out of plethora of possibilities. The reader is set into the story. Does he know where he is: house, mountain? What time of day it is? What season? Where he is located in the setting? e.g. standing in the doorway of a room or in the center of the room. This information provided in word pictures and using the techniques llisted above creates the overall mood you want your reader to experience.

Exercise #3

Write the story of your photo place, making sure you choose your writing mode/tone, the mood you felt when you chose this photo, and the relevant facts of the setting.


Write down a dream you’ve had in preparation for session #5.

NOTE: Session #5 will not be posted until March 3.