Thursday Writing Prompt No. 35

One of the buildings at the New York Hall of Science
in Queens, New York City.

This week we’re going to explore setting. It isn’t something that I’ve managed to become proficient with yet, so what I’m including here applies to my own writing experience as much as providing you with a weekly writing prompt. In fact, I’m writing about it today because it’s something that I need to work on for my novel.

Beyond describing a fictional setting, I’ve found more than once that I’ve forgotten whether my characters were sitting down, standing up, or even facing one another (which, if they were talking, was probable!). One thing that I need to do is sketch a map or floor plan for my fictional island, because I need to know where the characters are, even if I don’t explain every detail in the narrative.

It’s one thing to make up a setting and give your readers details about the place and the things in it, but almost as hard — or even harder — is describing everyday life. That’s because trying to see familiar places in a new way isn’t easy. The more familiar you are with a place, the more you expect that others share your daily experience and will know what you mean. And that’s as true for the time in which the story takes place, whether it’s the 1890s, 1950s, or 1990s.

Your task for this week is to describe a room in your home, office, or anyplace that you frequent more than twice a week. Pick whatever you like, but it needs to be so familiar to you that it feels like home. Try to include the five senses in your description so that the reader can smell the dust, feel the wind, or hear the music playing on your computer’s tiny speakers. You want the reader to feel transported into your world.

It might help to take a photo of the room and work from that, because it will remove you from the everyday experience and make you look at the room from a different perspective (yes, two-dimensional instead of three). Or make a sketch. And I don’t care if you’re not an artist. Draw boxes for the furniture and circles for other stuff and write the names of what’s there in the circles. It doesn’t matter. The point is to make you aware of what is in the room and what is important. In fact, the sketch will work best for this exercise because you won’t spend time drawing things that you have no interest in describing, so unconsciously you’ll be forced to pick out the most relevant things to your setting.

I try to do this with photography: take pictures of things from unusual angles. This building at the New York Hall of Science was interesting enough, but when I looked up and saw how pretty the sky was I wanted to include it in the photo. As a result, I began to look at the shapes of the building and saw it differently. You may find that taking up photography or sketching can help your writing because you’ll start to notice details that you can include in your work. But don’t forget to spend some time reading, because seeing the words that other writers use to describe their worlds can be really helpful to your own work. Above all, have fun!

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