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24 Feb


    Many young writers find writing setting a bit of a chore; they would rather get on with their story instead of describing the wallpaper.  However, setting can and should be much more than an inventory of your protagonist’s bedroom.  Setting is one of the primary ways a writer establishes a story’s mood, that is the underlying feeling or atmosphere.  Setting can also reveal character, or establish conflict.   If you play it right, setting will help tell your story, rather than take you away from it.   But how do you do that? 1) Write with all five senses.  I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll repeat it again.  Do you remember how Madeleine L’Engle worked the all senses in A Wrinkle in Time?  Many writers overplay the visual information, but forget about temperature, texture, smell, and sound. 2) Keep your characters moving.  Describe the setting as your protagonist experiences it.  Think about how Louis Sachar described the “Wreck Room” in Holes; he gave us the room while a fight was breaking out. 3) A few details may be all you need.  Resist the urge to spend two paragraphs describing every object on your protagonist’s bookshelf (unless, of course, every one of those objects is very important).  Often the best settings are told with a few, well-chosen details which evoke a rich, vibrant environment. 4) Make your setting do double-duty.  Consider what you want the reader to learn in the scene you’re writing and then ask how the setting can help show that idea.  For instance, let’s say you’re writing a scene where a woman goes on a job interview in a bank.  Later on, you’re planning to reveal that the bank manager is really a vampire.  What details in the setting can you describe to hint at this sinister reality?  Perhaps the heavy door closes with a thud?  Maybe there’s a blood-red carpet?  You get the idea. Most importantly, I want you to recognize that setting is an essential part of what makes your particular story unique.  As Eudora Welty said, “Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else.” So, your assignment this week is to write a new scene with a rich, vibrant setting. Best, Kate

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