Sensational Settings

Hello everyone!

Have you ever read a story and had trouble visualizing where it took place? Did you ever skip a paragraph because it was just description and you didn’t care enough to read it? As a writer, you must walk the fine line between setting the scene for your reader and giving too much detail.

This three-part exercise is to help you learn what details about your setting are essential to share and how to seamlessly work them into your story.

Binoculars 3Part 1: Observation

  1. Go outside. Close your eyes. What do you feel? What do you hear? What do you smell?
  2. Now open your eyes. What do you see? Walk around. Is the terrain uneven or level? Touch a tree, the grass, the side of a building. What is the texture like?
  3. Now shout. Whisper. Speak at your normal volume. Sing. Does your voice echo or disappear?
  4. Write down your observations. Try to write a minimum of three for each sense.

Writing 5Part 2: Write a Scene

  • Write a short scene that takes place in the location you observed in Part 1. Use sensory details to describe the setting. Be careful to work the details into your story instead of dumping them on the reader in one or two description paragraphs. If someone wanted to read paragraphs about trees, they’d study forestry.

Example of a well-set scene:

Stephany walked onto the front porch and looked across the street to where Mrs. McGuire was putting her flower beds to rest for winter. A gentle breeze chased dried leaves across the sidewalk and played with the stray wisps of hair that had escaped Stephany’s messy bun. She wrapped her hands around her mug and smiled. As she sipped her coffee, the delicious steam warmed her nose.

(The action begins in the next paragraph.)

In that paragraph, the reader has been given basic information about the neighborhood, time of year, and even a little about Mrs. McGuire and Stephany.  The reader can picture where he/she is and is ready for the action to begin.

Mood 3Part 3: Use the Setting to Enhance the Mood

  1. Choose a problem for a story.
  2. Write three crucial scenes in the location you observed. Use the details you share about the setting to help set the mood for each scene.
  • Beginning: introduce key characters and the baseline for their lives
  • Middle: the problem has been introduced and the protagonist is dealing with it
  • End: how it ends and how the characters have changed

Example:

Problem – The protagonist’s spouse is cheating on him/her.

Beginning – The protagonist doesn’t know his/her spouse is having an affair. The weather is good, and I only mention beautiful or pleasing things about the setting.

Middle – The protagonist knows about the affair and is trying to decide whether to ignore it or confront his/her spouse. I draw the reader’s attention to things that need fixing or to weeds in the yard or flower beds. The sky is cloudy.

End – The protagonist has just signed the divorce papers and is moving out of the house. It is cool and partly cloudy. The house is barely mentioned, and when it is, the stated features are either imperfect ones or ones that make the protagonist feel nostalgic. The focus is on the road, especially the point where trees block the protagonist’s view of it.

*Remember, this is an exercise. You do not need to write the entire story unless you want to.

Happy writing!

Katie

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Character Interrogation

Hello everyone!

Have you ever mixed up the pieces from multiple games or multiple puzzles?  The result is a mess!  However, mixing up characters can be the key to getting out of a writing conundrum.

Naughty 1Occasionally, I will have a character who absolutely refuses to do what I want him/her to do.  No matter how hard I try, he/she will not do or say what I envisioned in a way that feels believable.  The reason is usually that he/she is underdeveloped.  In most cases, I am able to get to know the character better by asking and answering a series of questions.  In other cases, though, I am too focused on the story’s needs to be able to honestly answer the questions for the character.

Your writing prompt for the next two weeks is to learn about your characters by taking them out of their world.

1. Choose two characters from different pieces you’ve written and put them together in a scene that takes place outside both of their stories.

2. Choose one of the following situations to start the scene:

  • Put them in an interrogation room together. (One could interrogate the other or they could both be interrogating a third character.)
  • blind dateHave them go on a blind date. (Be sure to give some thought to the setting.)
  • Give them a task to accomplish. (It’s best if the task requires two people.)
  • Give them a problem to solve. (There must be consequences if they fail.)
  • Have the characters tell their stories to each other. (I did this with one of my villains from “The Four Crystals.”  Wow, the story was different from that point of view.)

3. Write the scene keeping both characters true to their personalities.

4. Read through the scene and note some of the following:

  • How did the two characters interact? (Were they friendly, civil, or hostile?  Could they work together?  Etc.)
  • Who took the lead?
  • Did either of them dominate the conversation?
  • emotions 1Did either character have a key mannerism or phrase?
  • What was each character’s primary goal in the scene (i.e. what was most important to each character)?
  • Did either character have a predominant emotion?
  • What did your characters do or say that surprised you? (For example, when I did this exercise, I discovered that one of my supporting characters was oblivious to her leader’s flaws.  Going into the exercise, I knew that she was a very loyal follower.  When she was talking to another character about her leader, I realized that she believed her leader to be infallible.)

Happy writing!

Katie

*I would like to thank sci-fi and fantasy author Olivia Berrier for sharing this writing exercise with me and for walking me through how to do it.