Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tip O'Day #291 - Setting as a Character

Setting can become a character in your story. In my novel Montana is Burning, a forest fire serves as not only backdrop, but also antagonist and instigator of events. In this second part of the novel excerpt, the fire faces death but survives.

The golden eagle circled high over a remote valley twenty miles west of Kintla, Montana.

A burning snag sent a faint column of smoke aloft. The eagle knew fire usually flushes small animals from their hiding places but not this time. A pine beetle infestation had devastated the valley, leaving behind mostly rotten stumps and scarcely any healthy trees. Despite a huge insect population, there were almost no green branches and so hardly any rodents, birds or small game lived there. Above the size of centipedes, practically no life survived in the valley.

The great bird found a sturdy branch high in an ancient pine. She waited.

Like waves rippling out from a pebble dropped in a fiery lake, a circle of flame spread around the snag, painting the pale underbelly of the clouds an angry red. The lower branches of several nearby spruce caught fire. The expanding pool lapped across the matted carpet of pine needles, burning into the forest floor until it ran out of air.

A dark cloud passed overhead, so heavy with water vapor that it began to condense. A shower doused the valley and the eagle sought shelter on a lower branch.

Flames hissed and wavered and then finally failed. As if to signal the fire's defeat, the blackened snag teetered and fell. A cloud of ash rose into the damp air then pelted back to earth with the rain.

The snag lay on its side like some grotesque wounded beast. Sheltered from the rain, its underside reflected a dim glow against the ruined forest floor. The fire lived.

The golden eagle took wing and continued her hunt.

This three-part novel excerpt concludes tomorrow, when wolf and eagle meet one another.

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