Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tip O'Day #292 - Setting & Theme

The two previous blog posts have talked about the importance of setting, and the possibility it can actually become a character in your story - think The Perfect Storm. Another consideration is the use of setting to reinforce the mood and themes of your story. There’s a reason few noir scenes are set on sunny California beaches. The following is the third excerpt from my forthcoming thriller, Montana is Burning, which will be out in Kindle this summer.

The golden eagle sliced through the air, miles from where scattered rain drenched a small clearing and the stream that ran through it. She spiraled upward with little effort, riding a thermal current as she waited for the storm to break up.

The eagle was the perfect aerial predator, with cruel talons and a beak that could disembowel an adult sheep. She was death from the sky. Lacking an owl’s night vision, she couldn’t hunt after dark, even though high winds had kept her pinned to her aerie for more than a week and starvation threatened.

She circled and watched. In a valley far below, dry lightning struck a large snag and it burst into flames. Since no animals fled from the fire, the eagle quickly lost interest. She flew on.

The isolated storm finished venting its fury on the clearing and sped east. Dim memories drew the eagle above a stream where salmon returned each summer’s end and trout grew fat and pink on the helpless spawn – ancestral memories of hunts and feasts by eagles long dead but memories no less real. The raptor smelled blood and tasted flesh as if the kills had been her own.

The great bird spotted the glitter of whitewater skittering across rocks made smooth by eons of glacial runoff, and saw dark shapes carving their way beneath the surface.

She dipped a chocolate-brown wing and dropped below the air current. The eagle descended slowly at first, then folded her wings next to her body to plunge like lightning drawn to earth. Her freefall lasted hundreds of feet before she spread wide her wings, pulling out of the meteoric dive. With hardly an eddy on the water’s surface, she ripped a trout from the icy stream and started back to her craggy perch, blood on her talons and savagery in her cry.

As she climbed through the warm air, the golden eagle spotted the valley where lightning struck a snag earlier. Flames burned greedily and jumped to neighboring scrub pine. Only the eagle saw.

In the great bird’s wake, a wolf erupted into the opening and sprang across the stream, but the whitetail he had been stalking already bounded far down the slope, startled by the exultant screech from above. Stopping at the edge of the clearing, the wolf listened to the doe’s flight.

The wolf turned from the fading sound of escape. He jogged toward remembered cattle.

The world, after all, was full of prey.

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