Blog Archive

Friday, 28 September 2012

Work for Week 

       Setting and experience

Write a passage in which you show a 
character interacting with a setting 
they are familiar with

This should, if possible, be connected with your book/pamphlet if you are doing that.   It could the opening 
of a book or chapter.   I was recently doing a passage in which a teacher was coming into his classroom 
first thing in the morning and adding items to a display  - items on a table and posters on the 
walls -  about global warming, and then going into the staffroom to check if he’s on playground duty.

The problem with passages like this is first to get them authentic, and second not to make them stand alone as 
bits of ‘brilliant’ description.   The character has to be integrated into his or her setting (as if it is almost an 
extension of them), and the passage has to be integrated into the narrative or theme of the 
story/poem/biography/play.   In a sense a piece of writing is always in part ‘about’ the setting.   
Think about how, for example, you might 
indicate this teacher’s love (or loathing) for his job, his worry about pending criticism at tonight’s staff meeting.

Also – something we’ll come back to – remember that you don’t give an impression of setting and familiarity 
of character with it by my mention large amounts of detail.   One or two or three telling examples are far more
 effective, and of course more manageable to integrate into the story.  

It’s almost always best to base the setting of your writing on somewhere you know yourself, and know well.   
It’s an idea sometimes, to just review the different places you’ve experienced and things you’ve done.  Think 
about the different homes you’ve had, the different places you’ve worked in.   Think about the different 
kinds of landscape you really know, seasides, woods, town, etc.   Think about the different kinds of 
practical things y
ou know how to do, such as cooking,  building, decorating, dancing,  playing a sport,  gardening.

Try to avoid settings and experiences you’ve learnt about only by reading or on television.  Writers do 
sometimes use research in order to go beyond their experience.  But that is very time consuming if it is to 
be thorough enough.

Think about your own history and how the places and experiences in it have shaped you.  Then think in 
the same way about your characters.   Convincing characters have to ‘fit’ their settings, and their 
experience has to sound convincing. Neither can be ‘bolted on’.

Many writers do a separate biography of each of their main characters with dates.  This is a way of 
focusing the mind of the character and conjuring up aspects of them which will ‘fit’ the story convincingly.

We talked about place last time.  How is the place the character comes from and knows still ‘in’ 
him or her?  Or you?  

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