Skip to main content

Writing Setting and Character

Hey guys!

Last Saturday evening, I attended a writers' group that I've been attending for a few months now, run by Hannah Retallick. While we were there, we talked about setting and character, specifically how to combine the two for good descriptions. 
I thought it'd be a good idea to post what we talked about over here on my blog, along with the writing exercises that I did. So, here goes. This is being written directly from my notes, by the way, so if it feels awkward or strange in bits, it's probably me trying to convert my notes into an article, which is harder than it looks, let me tell you.

The first thing we did was go through a brief overview of what it meant to combine Setting and Character. This bit was all about using details in order to bring the setting to life. Then we did our first exercise. For this exercise, we had to write two or three sentences describing our respective houses, using unique details rather than bland ones in order to bring it to life. The following is what I wrote. 

Exercise 1
My House

The front door opens into a long cream-walled hall, one wall lined with books, a wardrobe and a cabinet. A skylight peaks down the carpeted stairs. Outside a little wooden shed sits at the bottom of the gently sloping garden, with a big tree that's nearly the size of the house looming over it.

Obviously, not my best work, but still you get the basic idea. 

We then went into more detail about the topic. We were told to use all the senses, sight, touch, smell, taste and sound. Think, how would the character react?
There are several different ways in which character influences description. 
First is general interest. When an architect walks into a beautifully designed church, they would notice the architecture, would ask about the architecture. Show the reader what makes the person tick. Secondly, show what's important to them. Character is important. Just because everyone walks into the same place, does not mean they will see the same thing.
Thirdly, think about their emotional connection to the place. Either they have one, in which case positive or negative it'll influence how they look at it, or they don't, which is important in itself. For example, say a character walks into a school. If they had a good experience when they were in school, they'd have a different reaction to someone who had a bad experience. If they didn't have an experience at all, because they didn't go, then they'd have a different reaction again. 
Finally, the character's state of mind in the present. Right now, at the point you're writing about, how are they feeling? If they don't want to be there, then they'll have a different reaction to a place than someone who does want to be there. What if they're really angry or upset about something? When they walk into somewhere, what they pay attention to will be influenced by their feelings. 

The final exercise was spaced over about fifteen minutes. We had to write a short story/description combining setting and character. We could describe a fictional place or a real one. I, naturally, chose a fictional place. Here it is. 

Exercise 2
I stare up at the grey-stone walls surrounding Mirror-Creek Manor with an icy feeling in my gut. I glance to the side, where Simon stands, grinning at me.
“I'm really not sure about this, Si,” I say, trying my best not to sound as scared as I am.
“Why?” Simon laughs. “You're not scared are you? You don't really believe it's haunted?”
I bite my tongue and straighten my back. “Of course not,” I snap and that's the final push I need. I stalk forward and dig my fingers into the stone-wall. It's cold, sending shivers up my arms. But I can't turn back now. I haul myself up the wall, bit by painful bit. By the time I reach the top of the wall, my hands are torn and my shoulders are on fire.
I take a deep breath, staring into the overgrown garden. The black and grey house looms over the garden, the shadow covering much of it, like dark fingers trying to suck in all light and life.
“Well,” I mutter to myself. “I've come this far.”
I shove myself off the top of the wall, the wind howling in my ears as I fall and land on my hands and knees in a thorn bush. I jump to my feet and clamber out. I look at my arms. Honestly, I look like a pincushion I've got so many thorns stuck in them.
I heave a sigh and look longingly back at the wall.
“I've come this far,” I mutter to myself and start forward. My trainers crunch against the frost-bitten over-grown grass, as I force my way through the undergrowth. I catch brief glimpses of the snow-white sky between trees every so often, but they never last long.
Finally, I reach the end of the garden and stumble onto a patio.
The patio is made of rotting mahogany that might have looked very beautiful in its day, but now looks old and decrepit. An eerie creaking rips its way through my bones, as I spin around, only to see a broken rocking chair, moving back and forth in the wind.
I clench my teeth.
“Nothing to be afraid of,” I mutter to myself. “You're being ridiculous.”
The shadow of the house is even worse here, looming over me as though it wants to eat me.
I walk forward, stepping as lightly as I can. The patio looks like it's about to fall to pieces. I reach the door and easily push it open, staring deep into the black hallway. I can't see anything. Anything at all.
I'm pretty sure it's unnatural for a hallway to be this dark.
The stories of the manor crawl their way back into my consciousness, of the murders that occurred here, the wealthy family who went insane, the screams coming from it at night.
“No, Billy.” I snap at myself. “You're being stupid. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

  I stalk forward and step inside the house.

As I said, this post was more an adaption of my notes than a real blog-post, so it's a bit different to my usual. Still, I thought it might be useful.
Have any of you thought about this sort of thing before? Do you use all the senses in your descriptions, or just sight? Have you tried doing this? Because it really does make your descriptions more lively. 


Popular posts from this blog

Ten Types of Writers

Hi guys!

So yeah. I'm back. *ducks to avoid rotten tomatoes being thrown* Sorry for being so late! In my defence, I got sick about a day after Christmas and still haven't fully recovered. Also, I kept forgetting until it was too late. But I'm back now!

I know you all thought you were finally free from my inane rambling, but no! You'll never be free.

So happy new year everyone! Please ignore that we're a few weeks into the year already. I hope it's been going well for you all so far. Today we're going to be discussing the Ten Types of Writers.

Some might say that you can't tie down a group of people to ten types, but those people are wrong. And I am right. Because I know everything. Ha*.

On we go.

*Shush, and let me have my delusions, okay.

Ten Types of Writers
This one is those nerds who plan every single detail. They do all their research ahead of time. They have shiny graphs and notebooks all neatly written. Unplanned stories give them…

My Favourite Tropes

Hey guys!

So a few weeks ago, several blogs I'm following all talked about their favourite tropes in books/films/tv and I thought. Hey. I'm a trope-loving human. I could talk for hours about that. I want to do it!

Quality content here, guys. Quality content.

This post has actually been planned since back in November - in fact, my initial draft talked about NaNoWriMo, which just tells you how long I left off finishing it. But it's a post I've been planning, so I'm doing it. Bear in mind that after this, I'm taking a brief break from posting for Christmas and I'll be back on the last Saturday of December with my Wrap-Up!

But that's in the future. Right now, let's talk tropes. On we go!

 Found Families
I just...I literally cannot describe to you how much I love this trope. I mean, it turns up in every one of my stories, it's in an awful lot of my favourite books/films/tv shows and I just...I love it. 
It's that friendship thing again, I'm ju…

January Wrap-Up

In no way, shape or form is this post late. Shush.

Hey guys!

So this week I'm doing my January Wrapup - a week late. I'm sorry, okay! We've covered that I'm bad at deadlines and I need to get back into the rhythm of writing posts. But it's here now.

My plans for the next few months aren't completely set in stone, but next week, I'm going to start a new series dedicated to explaining genres and giving a few examples of each one. I'm planning to start with magical realism - which I myself had trouble fully understanding for ages!

I'm also considering starting a series called 'Writer's Reviews'. This would be reviewing books and films with the goal of seeing what we as writers can take from it, whether that be through what the author did right or through what they did wrong. Would anyone be interested in that? I'm going to try one and see how it goes, see if it works alright as a format.

But that's my current plans for the blog, so …