Writing Tips – Setting and Character

This season’s writing tips post is going to focus on the relationship between physical setting and characters. I have come up with what should be a fun and challenging writing exercise which will allow you to consider the importance of these two important elements of fiction writing.

Setting – by which I mean the physical place or places in which your story unfolds – is a vital aspect of fiction writing. It is the backdrop to the action that unfolds. You probably already describe the physical setting of your story, adding just enough detail that your reader can picture it but still leaving enough to the imagination.

 However, something else to consider – and a great way to add another layer of sophistication to your story – is the attitude of your characters to the setting they are in, especially over time. Our opinions, perceptions and understandings of physical places can change over months and years. So it follows that the way a characters perceives a place they are in will also alter. The following exercise will help you to make a start on trying to incorporate this into your own writing. Even if it is not something you wish to take further, it should still prove a good challenge and is great fun as well.

Pick a character from a story you have read or written, or come up with a character of your own. After that, pick one of the images below. If none of them interest you (they are photos from my holidays, so I wouldn’t blame you if this is the case!) then choose a picture of your own.

Once you have chosen a picture, you can:

  • Imagine that this is a place that your character knows very well but which they are about to leave. What memories might they have of this place? What might be their attitude to it? Think of details from the photographs that you can pick out and add to. Write a couple of paragraphs in which you address these points.
  • Imagine that your character has just come across this place. What might they think of it? What might they notice? Write a couple of paragraphs in which you address these points.

Whichever exercise you pick, your next task is to imagine that time has moved forwards by six months. What might your character’s attitude towards your chosen place be now? If they have left it, what can they remember of it? If they have come to stay there, what is their attitude towards it now? Have details faded from memory or become so familiar that they hardly bear mentioning? It is up to you to decide.

If you only did one of the exercises, try the other. If you have done both, then why not try switching up which person you are writing in? Consider picking another picture, and repeat the exercise with this new setting.

The aim of this exercise is not only to consider what is going on inside the mind of your character and their thoughts about the setting they are in, but also to test your descriptive writing skills. The exercise requires you to describe setting, but in a selective way, picking out key details from the pictures to create an impression of the place your character finds themselves in. This is one of my favourite writing exercises and something I have found very useful. I hope you enjoy it too – do let me know what you think.

Ned Vessey, Blog Co-Ordinator

Photos are my own.

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