Good morning! It’s time for our Teachers Write Tuesday Quite-Write, and today’s guest is Elana K. Arnold. Elana is from Southern California. She’s the author of a number of great YA novels, including her latest from Carol Rhoda Books, Infandous.
Elana’s quick write today is “Setting as a Reflection of Character.”
There are some obvious essentials to storytelling. First, your story must have at least one
character; next, the character must want something; third, there must be something
keeping the character from getting what she wants. Hopefully, the characters converse.
Bam. You’ve got characters, plot, and dialogue.
But if you stop here, you miss out on a wonderful opportunity. WHERE does your story
happen? And, WHY are you choosing that location? Since this is fiction, we have the
wonderful power to place our characters and their conflicts in just the right setting. When
used well, setting can deepen our understanding of the character.
When I was a younger writer, setting was usually an afterthought. I drew box houses
around my characters, a five-pointed sun, maybe a lazy cloud or two. I didn’t really care
where the characters lived and worked. But as my own real-life setting became vitally
interesting to me and I began to be an agent of change and choice in my own life, I began
to ask, Is this home? Is this where I want to be? It wasn’t long until I started asking these
questions on my characters’ behalf, as well, and my fiction deepened and improved.
In THE QUESTION OF MIRACLES, Iris Abernathy hates her new home, perpetually
rainy Corvallis, Oregon. And the rain acts as a droning reminder of her unhappiness. Of
course, Iris sees the rain as miserable because she is miserable. If she were happy, maybe
the rain would feel cozy and private, hopeful and renewing.
Take a look at the setting of your work in progress and ask these questions:
1. Is there a setting at all? (You’d be surprised how often the answer to this question
is “Not really.”)
2. Is there a connection between the emotional landscape of my character and the
physical landscape around him?
3. Is this setting my best choice for this character and this story? (If not, consider
making a change.)
4. Is the setting as clearly rendered as the characters and the plot? (If not, are you
feeling inspired to make it so?)
And now, an assignment. It’s two parts. Pinky promise NOT to look at Part Two until
you complete Part One.
PART ONE: Take a pad of paper and a pen or pencil. Go outside and look around. Write
a paragraph describing your surroundings.
PART TWO: Now, you are a lost six year-old child. Rewrite the same description from
this point of view.
Now, you are a satisfied housecat. Rewrite the same description from this
point of view.
Now, you are a fifteen year-old whose parents just announced they are
divorcing. Rewrite the same description from this point of view.
Reread the four descriptions. Look at how different the exact same setting can become
depending on the scrim of perspective through which you view it. When you return to
your own work, remember this. Setting can be a reflection of character.
Note from Kate: This is a great writing prompt to use with students, too! If you’d like, share your original quick-write on setting along with one of your character-based descriptions to share in the comments today!