Teachers Write 7.14.15 Tuesday Quick-Write with Elana K. Arnold

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!


77 Replies on “Teachers Write 7.14.15 Tuesday Quick-Write with Elana K. Arnold

  1. The pool was clear and inviting, even on this gray morning. The potted flowers overflowed, cascading bright yellow and pink blooms onto the deck. A few bees darting from flower to flower, seemed to end up under a corner of the deck boards behind the grill, making a hidden nest that I’d have to spray. That’s the kind of day it was. A day to do yard work and crappy chores. Too gray to sit out and read or swim.

    Setting details from a 15 year-old-boy

    I walked outside and flopped onto a lounge chair. I sat there for a while watching a yellow inner tube drift across the cloudy pool water. The pool – where someone else would learn to swim, take their first dive off the board, have their tenth birthday party, play Marco Polo with their best friend. Beyond the pool was our fenced in yard. The yard – where someone else would mow the lawn under the dying pine trees, explore the woods behind the college, listen to the peepers at night from my bedroom window. I can’t believe I’m leaving this all behind. Dad’s apartment in Adams? Really? My room will overlook a parking lot where bums do drug deals. Just because he was miserable, why did I have to be?

    1. I especially the last few lines of the second one, starting with “I can’t believe…” It sounds just like a teenager.

    2. You did a great job capturing this teen’s emotions and enhancing them with the setting. I really liked the refrain “where someone else” and how you used that to reveal his loss and aspects of the setting quite naturally.

  2. This was a great exercise and one I will surely return to again and again! I loved trying to weave the emotions of the character and the setting together. Thanks for sharing!

    Outside today:
    Moisture hangs in the air, blurring lines and edges, promising heat and humidity before day’s end. The sky is immense and indistinct—foggy white with no boundaries. The bee balm is spilling into the yard from its patch, weighted with dew, flaunting its spiky rich magenta flowers. The cottage garden is lush with white and pink phlox, pom-pom headed hydrangea and blooming roses. Spider webs criss cross the grassy lawn, bedecked with dew, soon to retreat to invisibility as the day warms and moisture evaporates. From the woods comes the distant repeating thud of a woodpecker.

    15 year old:
    Lyra brushed past the stalks of bee balm, shoving them out of her way. She stepped off the driveway and moisture from the damp grass seeped into the canvas of her summer-white Keds, blotching them. The air felt heavy, laden with humidity and the sky was empty and white—indistinct. The thud-thud-thud of a woodpecker echoed like a dull pulse from the woods. She kicked half-heartedly at a spider’s web and watched the spider scurry away from the tangled strands.

    1. I like the way you *show* Lyra’s feelings by how she moves through the setting. Thanks for sharing, Molly.

      1. That’s exactly what I was thinking, Brian! The first piece is descriptive, but in the second, Molly has her character live and act in the setting, interact with it and it comes alive through her actions. Well done, Molly. Beautiful setting, too.

    2. You create a great sense of hopelessness with words like blotching, heavy, laden, empty and white- indistinct, dull pulse. We don’t know what is going on, but we sense her feelings.

    3. Molly, with each sentence your word selection paints a clear picture of a burdened girl. You’ve done a wonderful job of connecting the reader to the depression in the air.
      One suggestion is to consider a sequence that ties this together. Where is she headed, and why? Weaving that in may give the reader a greater sense of where the mood stems from, or what lies up the road.

  3. Good Morning!
    The sun is beginning to fill the yard for another hot Texas day. You can hear the lawn crews getting the work done early. On the back porch many things are strewn about like lawn chairs, a faded blow up shark and flip flops. The lark palm tree provides morning shade to the grill and other things on this messy porch.

    15 year old divorce
    I run out of the house and have to stop on the patio because of all the mess. It’s still early in the morning since the yard is still shaded, thank goodness. I can’t be inside right now. The patio is like my life now. Everything is strewn about, blow up sharks that we’ve played with in the past, flip flops, and lawn chairs. I just wish the lawn guys would be quiet. My life is falling apart. I just can’t stand all the noise. I can’t believe they are getting a DIVORCE! Just last night Dad was grilling on the still dirty grill. How can this be happening? I think I’ll just plop down here on the old green recycling bucket… where will we live, how am I going to tell my friends? I just want to scream, so I do, at the big palm tree in my face!

  4. Great reminders about the power of point of view & the underrated impact of setting. Thanks, Elana!

    Part One: All the trees tilt to the east, pushed by the prevailing winds. The trunks try to shimmy themselves upright, but the air is implacable. I sit with my back against one of those trunks as it eddies in the ocean of air. It creaks occasionally like a protesting boat. The early morning light has an underwater cast too, diffused by droplets no bigger than dust.

    Part Two – Housecat: On the other side of my window, I see the breeze pushing around the trees. I don’t feel a thing in the still house, except the warmth from the spot of sun where I sit. A purr vibrates through contented me.

    Part Two – Fifteen-year-old: Down by the creek, in the dim morning air, Lucas’ mom does all the talking. She and his dad have decided to get a divorce. (A what?) Lucas feels the day suddenly tilt. His guts lurch like the treetops, torn at by the wind. In a blink, he imagines himself up in those trees, looking down to spot the irony in what was supposed to be just a walk in the park.

    1. I especially loved your 15-year-old description. “His guts lurch like the treetops, torn at by wind,” give a great sense of violence to how badly his world has been ripped apart. I also love the idea of his climbing a tree and literally looking for irony in the walk through the park.

      I felt myself responding to this kid!

    2. I love these sentences: “Lucas feels the day suddenly tilt. His guts lurch like the treetops, torn at by the wind.” Great description of overwhelming feelings!

      I also really enjoyed your housecat description. I feel the contentment from that happy kitty! 🙂

  5. Part One
    As I descend through the tunnel of dew-laden fir trees, single strands of spider’s web catch my face. At the base of the steep steps I am greeted by a curtain of fog that blends the sky and water, sealing them together. Behind the gray curtain comes the rumble of a lobster boat, it pauses and voices drift my way. The engines rev once again and quickly all sound is swallowed whole. Spiderwebs flutter like jeweled sails attached to the wooden rails leading to the dock. A black faced seagull chees loudly as it flaps its way through the thick morning air. It is soon joined by a variety of others who swoop and call, not bothered by the cottony curtain surrounding them. The air feels cool and damp, sticking to my face like cold cream. With no warming, ripples of waves begin to appear from behind the curtain causing the dock to undulate and bob. The waves slap against the seaweed covered rocks. An engine revs, the water stills and I am alone.

    Part Two ‘Lost 6-year-old’

    The path magically appears leading to a long inviting stairway. I glance back at the house. I’ll be right back. Holding onto the solid wooden rails, I stomp downward. The stairway seems to go on forever. Maybe I should go back. Invisible spiderwebs catch my face, a sticky reminder that I have not been invited here. Can spiders eat boys? With relief I reach the bottom only to be greeted by a solid gray wall. Where are the colorful lobster buoys I saw yesterday? Where is the lobster boat I heard rumbling from my bedroom window? The dock creaks eerily as waves mysteriously appear through the thick fog. Several seagulls swoop by crying beware, beware, beware…

    The fog’s sticky fingers reach out and grab me. I feel like an insect that has accidentally hit a web. My heart flutters rapidly, trying to escape, but I feel myself becoming more stuck. I need to go and find my mom. Why did I sneak away? I’m drowning in the cold dampness. Curling up in a frozen ball, I long for my mom’s warm hug.

  6. Really cool exercise, enjoyed reimagining the place from so many different perspectives!

    Broken slats twist and lean, open spaces to the private worlds of the neighbors. Unkempt beds losing the battle between order and chaos. Once green, now brown grass begs for rain or just a simple twist of the faucet. Grass clippings dry in the hot summer sun, waiting for a breeze to carry them away.

    Tony crawled over the broken slat in the face, pausing to unhook a bent nail from his pant leg. Through the opening, he knelt down behind a crab apple tree covered in choking Jasmine vines. The lush green tendrils cutting into the soft bark. The little boy surveyed the unkempt yard, a free place to play if his mother never found out. Above his head the last glistening drops of morning dew highlighted a massive web, Tony watched the yellow spider making morning repairs, tidying up its elaborate meal catcher.

    Diego rolled on his back and stretched out across the cement patio. He wiggled his back end, using the patios rough texture to get a nice, deep full body back scratch. Satisfied, he shifted onto his side, set his head up high and closed his eyes to the morning sun. In front of him a few small, downy feathers flittered in the breeze.

    SNAP! The fence slat exploded. Jennifer, breathing hard, looked at her handiwork. No, that’s not right, it was her parents handiwork. It was their fault. She looked around the overgrown garden and uncut grass, just a mess. What a perfect metaphor for the chaos that was their marriage. Now the lawyers could come in and prune away the deadfall. Well, let just help them out a little she thought. SNAP! Jennifer six, fence zero.

    1. At least some of your characters are still getting enjoyment from the forgotten former home!

  7. Need to rewrite and refine, but here is the first draft.
    The house was a historical throwback. Based on the Victorian houses built at the turn of the century. Several stories high with peaked roofs and lattice molding around the gutters. Painted a grey blue with pealing and chipped paint in places assisting with the weathered look. The covered front porch wrapped around the house inviting visitors to sit for a while to watch the rat race run by. Windows rounded out from the wall giving the impression of the bubble eyes of a goldfish. The imposing front door was surrounded by stained glass giving the impression of elegance.
    The house loomed before her as scary as the gingerbread house in the story Mommy had read to her. Icing dripped from the roof down the blueberry walls. Rock candy surrounded the door and beckoned little children to take a bite. Should she go up the comfy looking front porch to sit for a while? She was so tired of running and maybe she could become the wicked witch’s assistant.

      1. This exercise did give me a story idea. I’ve been moaning about not working on any one story….maybe I found one.

  8. Good morning Ms. Arnold and Twer’s!
    Thank you for this wonderful setting activity. Also, thank you for making me aware of how terrible my backyard looks (at least to me). I spoke about my displeasure with how awful the backyard looks (I have been mowing around those bases for at least eight weeks) to my oldest daughter, and she said that she thought it looked awesome.

    The bare patches of dirt and the well-worn swing set are the focal point of a backyard that has been played in by many children. Two decades-old oak trees create a canopy, which shades the sandlot-type ball field, and serves almost as a natural dome. The base paths are worn and the bases, laid out in the opening weeks of spring, are part of the landscape. A lacrosse goal, which is as worn as the playground equipment, sits in the far left corner of the yard filled with soccer balls and Wiffle balls. It’s quiet for now, but as the morning turns to afternoon, kids will begin to arrive and the action will not cease until the sun sets on another summer day.

    A lost six year-old:
    The path leads to what looks like another playground. There’s an awesome baseball field. The swing set looks scary. A slide is leaning against a post, a swinging bar is broken, and the swings look like they’ll break in half if I sit on them. The lacrosse goal is filled with so many balls to play with. How did I get here? Where is Mom? Maybe, I’ll swing on the swings before I leave. They work. I’ll run the bases. I’ll kick these balls around. Kids start coming to the field. “Hey, little guy, where did you come from? Where is your Mom?” I wonder if they’ll let me play.

    Mom comes running into the backyard. “Timmy, there you are, I have been worried sick looking for you.”
    “Why? Can I stay and play?”

    Thank you again! Happy writing!

  9. Hello! What a fun writing assignment this morning! Here is what I came up with:
    I step out onto the deck and sigh at how sad it looks. It is in desperate need of a makeover; pieces of the floor boards are splintering and the paint has long worn off. I avert my eyes and look up at the trees whose outstretched limbs protect our yard from the hot summer sun. The Tiger Lilies in the garden are vibrant, standing tall and refreshed. The air outside this morning is cool and damp, the just-rained scent surrounds me. Toys are strewn haphazardly on the grass. A flopped over crab-shaped kiddie pool, a worn wooden swing set, and a plastic climbing structure sit quietly among the rain soaked toys. Just added rope strung from the Maple tree to the deck remind me of the broken dryer I’m hoping is fixed this week and the laundry that is piling up that will have to be hung once the threat of rain has passed. And while my backyard may be in disarray, I smile because I know it is well used and shouts of laughter will likely be heard from it later today.

    P.O.V of my lazy cat, Mojo:

    I keep pawing at the screen, but she must not be able to hear me. Maybe if I meow nice and loud she will open the door for me. Nope, that didn’t work. I guess I’ll just lay here, right in front of the door, and wait for her to come back inside. Then I can make my escape. A breeze drifts in, and I sniff. The air smells sweet and clean. I can’t wait to find my little sitting spot in the garden and feel the soft dirt on my paws. It is the perfect place to watch the bugs and munch on the grass. I can sit there, covered and cool for hours. Oh good, the door is opening. I slowly stand and pause in the center of the door as my paws hit the wet wood. Hmmm, maybe I should wait until later to go out… She is yelling something at me, again. I can hear the birds chirping away and the leaves rustling in the breeze. But it is just too wet for me. I retreat back inside the house. I think I’ll go take a nap under the baby’s crib instead.

    1. Hahaha! Your cat has attitude, Sara! I love that the wet deters her. Way to use setting to inspire your character’s actions.

  10. I really enjoyed this!

    Original paragraph:
    I’m sitting in an ergonomically comfortable chair at a broad, L-shaped desk. The space around me is somewhat cluttered, but doesn’t feel overwhelming. The room is brightly lit, and out my window I have the perfect view of two blooming flowered plants.

    I can’t believe I’m sitting at Ms. Casey’s desk. Why did I come here? Why did I think I could talk to some random adult about my parents? She’s pretty nice, and she’s always told us at the Teen Council meetings that we could come talk to her anytime, but I don’t think she meant this. Not a 15 year old mess, with mascara streaking all down her face from crying and stupid holes in her jeans from falling off that stupid bike. I just had to get away, you know? As fast as I could. And for some reason, I showed up here. I love this office. It’s so bright and colorful and cluttered. I put my head on the smooth desk and hear them say it again, over and over, “We tried but we just can’t stay married anymore. It’s not fair to us and it’s not fair to you.” Bullshit. They don’t care about me. They don’t care. I hear that, over and over and over, even those I put my hands over my ears to block it out.

    1. Casey, It’s so interesting how your character runs to this place! I love that you brought her here for refuge. Such an effective way to draw the setting into your character’s development. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Thank you, Elana! That was fun. I did my initial quick write at Barnes and Noble this morning after I dragged my kids there so I could pick up a copy of Go Set a Watchman. The store was, to my surprise, empty! Again, thanks.

    PART ONE: Take a pad of paper and a pen or pencil. Go outside and look around. Write
    a paragraph describing your surroundings.
    I leave the muggy and misty parking lot and enter the store. The air conditioning is set too low in here, I think. Upon entering, a large screen greets me playing the black and white movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. Gregory Peck makes a handsome and smart Atticus, I think. Well cast. I walk through the center of the store flanked by shelves of books, bursting with color. That warms me up. A large stormy blue octagonal display rises out of the center of the store. Her name is everywhere. We thought we’d never see it on something new. I hear the rain pour down outside and feel safe in here, with her—even if it is too cold.

    Now, you are a fifteen year-old whose parents just announced they are
    divorcing. Rewrite the same description from this point of view.
    I walk into the store and think how quiet it is in here. At least there won’t be any yelling. A large monitor in the front of the store shows some old movie. A man in glasses is sitting on the front porch reading something to a kid, can’t tell if the kid is a boy or a girl. Doesn’t matter. Looks like the man, the dad I guess, likes the kid, wants to teach her something. Maybe if Dad were concerned with us . . . I can’t think about that now. I’ll cry and I don’t want to cry here. I work my way to the back of the store, nearing knocking over this enormous display. That could have been embarrassing, I thought. Why do they make these things so huge and hard to get around? I plopped down in what my mom calls the teen angst aisle. I told her it’s called YA literature but she didn’t listen. I chose a book from the bottom shelf, one I’ve read before and I escape.

    1. I love the difference in point of view between the two. One is so happy and the other so very sad. I also like how the character is escaping into a book. It’s how so many, including me, escape.

  12. Gathering at the edge of man, a vibrant city thrives. Every kind of creature chirps buzzes, digs, crawls, swoops and flutters, busy at the business of living life under the canopy that constitutes their chapel of worship, their home and hearth.
    Mere steps from his back door, invisible to the uninitiated, the way there hides in shadow. In that brief moment of entry, he is swallowed whole, taking his place in this world rich with pressureless purpose. He trades turmoil for tranquility, and surrenders his previous reality to a greater one. He exhales. He was home.

  13. This was a great exercise. It’s interesting how much easier it was to write from certain perspectives. I haven’t posted since last Tuesday and told myself that today was the day to be brave so here goes.

    A snippet of my first paragraph:
    The morning sun shines down the street and highlights the diversity of housing. Old, charming character homes on lots with careful manicuring and towering trees. Modern, stylish apartment buildings made of brick with big windows. Construction sites with large housing complexes going up. Behind the street is a busy overpass, the sound of traffic and construction permeates the air.

    15 year-old:
    “I need to get out of here,” I say and I burst out of the door into the backyard. My thoughts are drowned out by the constant traffic on the overpass and the never-ending construction. I stand there stunned for a moment. My eyes dart around searching for something to calm me. There’s the garden we’ve grown and tended for as long as I can remember. The fire pit we’ve spent so many nights huddled around roasting marshmallows. The treehouse we built together when I was eight. I run over and climb up the ladder, pushing open the creaky trapdoor. I haven’t been up here in years but right now it’s the only safe place I’ve got. I sit on the dirty, abandoned floor and burst into tears. The jackhammer beats into my brain and in that steady rhythm all I can think is “Don’t they love me? How can they do this to me?” Over and over.

    1. I agree! The specific perspectives were easier to write than the initial one. I like how the things your character sees now come into a nostalgic focus, because she is losing the togetherness of her family. It’s fitting she goes to the abandoned tree house. I connected with this character. Good work.

    2. Brianne,

      I really enjoyed the contrasting details that show the inner turmoil your teen is facing. Comparing warm, familial memories (tending the garden, roasting marshmallows, working together to build the treehouse), with the current news of divorce, creates quite a confusing rift for your character. You painted this inner tumult well!

  14. Elana,
    This was a wonderful prompt that jolted me, challenging me to honestly assess the lack of thought given to the setting in my WIP. Thanks for calling me to sharpen my focus!

    Everett had to get away to process what he overheard Mom blurt out in the heated phone call with Dad. The split had been inevitable. He just hoped it would come after he had moved out of the house, and away from this town.
    Sitting outside the bookstore, he never realized just how manicured everything was in Midwestern suburbia. The town was characterized by cute little shops, with clean lines on the advertisements, the architecture, and the lots. Trees were properly trimmed, and carefully spaced. Flowers were always in bloom. The cars all seemed of recent vintage and similar affluence, glimmering, none too outspoken in their color choice. Even the people seemed manicured. The men typically fashioned in conservative attire, often polos and khakis, while the women seemed dressed for a gentle workout, while carrying a few bags from the boutique stores as they made their way for a social visit to the local coffeehouse. People milled about with carefully crafted smiles and cautiously orchestrated proximity.
    He began to realize that a cosmetic facade wasn’t just an ingrained layering that protected the darker sides of his family, but that his entire town had a manicured veneer, carefully concealing its’ own less-than-stellar infrastructure.

    1. Greg, the comparison between the veneer of the town and the concealed, darker sides of Everett’s family reveals so much about the dynamic of this family. I am intrigued and want to know more about Everett’s life. Great job bring the setting to the fore and having it illustrate the character’s turmoil.

      1. Dalila,
        Thnk you for the kind words. This was a great challenge, and pushed me to think about deeper connections between my character, and how he assimilates into the world around him.

    2. That’s a deep and powerful realization for a kid. Wow. What is the town hiding? Intriguing.

      I’m wondering (honestly–curious for my own writing) if that is a realization that a writer should come right out and share–especially when written from a 3rd person POV–or if there is a way to SHOW it instead. Maybe it’s a conversation? Or italicized thought? It sounds like a major realization that should sound and feel authentic to the reader.
      “He began to realize…” almost sounds like a summary instead of a process. Is this a good place to have a character ask himself questions?

      I don’t know. Disregard these ideas if they make no sense. I’m feeling rambly.

      1. David,

        These are great questions to consider. Showing versus telling would have made this a stronger piece for sure. Thanks for helping me to dig deeper into the process!

  15. I guess I’m the character since I’m writing my memoir. After I get this story out of me- I might be able to make up a new one! Thanks for all of the encouragement! Jennifer Choate
    Shouldn’t need to leave the front porch to tell this tale- even though there’s a few acres beyond. First time I stood here waiting to get in, I heard from God or my guardian angel, “This is it!” In the background, aspens quaking and even Rocky Mountain Bluebirds flying about! “Home is where your story begins.” True quote for me. Love being in the clouds parading across the sky country. We’re surrounded by mountains- Mesa Verde, La Platas, Sleeping Ute and more- mountains protectively encircling all of us in the valley.
    Out front is the giant Blue Spruce where we got married. All decked out in bibbed shirts, hats, and jeans at the end of the world 12-21-12. Christmas lights twinkling, snow on the ground, a warm campfire, sunset, our horses, and friends. “Horses?”, you say. My beautiful grulla paint was my maid of honor and a handsome palomino paint named Legs was my husband’s best man. The cowboy church preacher pronounced us husband and wife and we rode off into the sunset- right around the corner to the barn! It gets cold round here when the sun goes down! Dreams have happened right here in the outskirts of Dolores, Colorado.
    Part 2- You couldn’t really get lost round here unless you were dropped off somewhere on the county road and walked down this particular gravel road, and through our usually open gate. But the lost six year old might be drawn here by the paint horses, the spotty dogs, and the metal sculptures my husband creates. We have a kind of happy looking sun adorning our entrance gate and metal crows perched around the fence posts. The child wouldn’t have a lot of other choices. I’m sure she’d be thinking, “I need help.” “Maybe I can ride the horses and play with the dogs while they rustle me up something to eat.”

  16. This would be great with students and fun to see al their different takes on the school yard outside the library. Anyway, here is mine…
    1) It\’s a small deck, 10X10, slatted rails around it, overlooking a narrow tract of open space with a trail running through it. In one corner is a large, dented grill, facing a rickety old greyish patio couch and an equally weathered coffee table. My dog sleeps in the sun between the couch and the grill. The only sounds are a distant lawnmower and a couple of planes overhead, and, if a jogger or biker or especially a dog-walker go by, the loud, piercing bark of my vigilant protector disturbed from slumber.

    After doing the other prompts, and especially the cat (where I heard the birds I had not previously), I then decided to write from my dog\’s perspective:

    It is so nice out here in the sun on my deck. I could hop up on my sofa but it still smells wet from last night\’s rain. I\’ll just stretch out on the warm deck floor. If anyone goes by on my trail I will let them know it is mine. Oh. The cat..Ooooh I hate it when she does that! Just walks right in front of me, hops up on my sofa and then stares at me from her perch on the rail. I will have to keep my eye on her.

    1. Your dog made me chuckle. “Ooooh I hate it when she does that!” Funny! I found it interesting that you focused on smell. I remember Kate Messner addressed this is an earlier lesson, and I didn’t think about the senses when I imagined the cat perspective. I think I’ll revisit my scene and see if my cat also gets distracted or annoyed by the butterfly I described in Part 1. Thanks for sharing your writing. It’s given me food for thought!

  17. This is such a great idea to use with my Creative Writing students in the fall! So far TW is filling up my lesson plan book with some pretty cool stuff to share, thank you, thank you!
    Here’s my go at it, I just included the first writing and the 15 year old writing, since I was actually at the beach this morning with three young kids and my 14 year old niece. How funny!
    The sky is blanketed by a veil of clouds- just enough to soften the sun peeking through. The seagulls are crying out for more Pirate’s Booty from the children who squat on a sand-dampened towel large enough for all three of their little bodies to fit together. There is an empty lifeguard stand overlooking a calm morning on Long Island Sound.
    15 year old:
    Why are we here? It’s not even a sunny day. This is so stupid and I wish they would stop trying to fill my summer with things to do; can’t they see I just want to be alone? How is a family day at the beach going to fix the problems once we get back home? This beach is stupid anyway, no lifeguards to check out, no one here except some lady and her annoying kids chasing seagulls. I can’t wait for it to start raining so we can pack it up and I can go back to bed.

  18. I’m going to come back here with some writing later, hopefully, but first I want to say how interesting – I’ve never had students rewrite SETTINGS from various points of view – it was always events. Thanks for making me think of how settings can “change” based on POV. Seems so obvious, but for some reason, a new idea for me!

    1. I had the same reaction. It made perfect sense and seemed novel all at once. I LOVE this TW summer camp!

  19. Thank you for this exercise. It’s quite thought-provoking (and not easy!). I love working with setting.

    Here’s my 15-year-old by.

    I’ve always hated this place, now I hate it even more. Dad’s leaving. Figures. I have to stay here with Mom. Not that it matters. She’s never here anyway. NONE of my friends live around here. Dad used to take me everywhere because he works from home. From this home. House. It’s not really a home. And this neighborhood is not really neighborly. Bunch of old people, or people with little kids. They always look at me funny, like they’re afraid of me or something. Like I’m gonna hurt anyone. I’m too puny anyway. All I have is this stupid skateboard. That doesn’t get me very far. And the stupid sidewalks around here are all cracked and broken. There’s parts where the tree roots have pushed sections of sidewalk up. I have to stop when I get to them. Or I could ride in the street, like I see everyone else doing. Mom would have a fit if she saw me do that. Too bad. I’m going down this person’s driveway. The yard is up so high that the apron of the driveway is a ramp. I put my earbuds in and crank up Eminem. I’ll get a good start on that and just ride down the street, away from this house.

    1. Wendy, I can really feel your characters anger. This grabbed me “And the stupid sidewalks around here are all cracked and broken. There’s parts where the tree roots have pushed sections of sidewalk up. I have to stop when I get to them.” I so want to know the other ways you depicted that part of the sidewalk! How did the cat, and you, and the lost child view it? I’m intrigued 🙂

  20. Hello, Elana & Campers!

    Thank you, Elana, for a fantastic exercise that terrified me, and that I will absolutely use with my students. I really didn’t think I could do this. Fiction is not a forte, and I was quite surprised by how much setting brought voice to my three characters. Each character picked up on a different piece of the setting I’d observed. It was fascinating because they told me what they noticed. (Thank you for setting this up as two parts. It made the second part fresh and inspired.)

    I would really love to share my teenager with you, but she exploded into expletives upon seeing the rosebush that she and her father had planted for her 13th birthday, so I will share my cat instead.

    Part 1: As I extend my glance beyond the deck, the rose bush has a dancing visitor, white wings flutter around its edges. Mostly green, like a Douglas fir, the leaves have a few bright splashes of pink where parts of flowers cling after the early morning showers, but mostly, the bush is covered in the stars of buds that have been deflowered. This plant desperately needs to be deadheaded.

    Part 2: Purr. Purr. This rosebush is awesome- scratches in all the right places, not to mention the wood on this deck- just the right height to get my back. This spearmint smells terrible though. Wish they would plant a little catnip here. Ahh. Now that would be awesome. A little back scratch. A little catnip-generated spin on the grass. Then, a lazy nap on the edge of the deck where the sun hits. Purrfect.

    1. Dalila
      This line really grabbed me “As I extend my glance beyond the deck, the rose bush has a dancing visitor, white wings flutter around its edges.” And the cat “just the right height to get my back”. I would really like to hear your teenager. We can handle a few expletives! I too was intimidated by this. And I also found that it really got me out of my box. Fiction is NOT my forte but it did help me open up to it a bit.

  21. Bits of blue peek out through the grey clouds. Rain softly fall on this warm day, tickling my arms, and the air smells alive with flowers and grass. White daisies, red poppies and blue flax sway in the breeze. Birds chatter under leaf covered trees. A block away cars exit the beach parking lot, and I wonder if the rain has caused this exit. I’m certain the people inside the cars got wetter at the beach than they will now. Insects are hovering above the sidewalk, though shaped like Japanese beetles, these brownish grey bugs are difficult to see above the cement sidewalk.

    It’s raining and where am I? I’ve never seen that brick house before, and why do people go so fast around me on the bike path? Maybe I will follow these flying bugs. They could lead me home. I could pick some flowers. My mom’s favorite color is blue. I think I’ll just sit here by these blue flowers and wait for her.

    I look out my window and am delighted to see rain falling on the grass and flowers and especially the people. They could learn from me. Here in the window, I can watch the world without being bothered by it.

    What! You wait until now to tell me. You ruin summer for me. Ugh, and now the bugs are flying around my head. One is in my eye. Perfect, now it’s raining. I hate you.1

    1. Pamela – I love being privy to all four of your characters. They all see the bugs and rain with such unique perspective. I’m stricken with how fluidly these voices are shared. Thank you for the inspiration to share.

  22. Hi All – What a wonderful prompt. I love the idea that the more setting matters in our own lives the more we might focus on it for our characters. It sounds so personally fulfilling! I made myself write for 5 minutes from each perspective. Then I paired down to share all of them here.

    Me – There is more color in this yard than anywhere on the block. They must not have turned off their water yet. Like everyone else, surrounded in brown. The picket fence stands chipped with one broken picket. A pile of termite dust at the bottom. In the gutter tiny plants grow. Breaking their way in to the concrete landscape of the street.
    Lost child -Lost. I don’t recognize anything! Help!. Maybe no one takes care of things here. Their paint’s coming off. I see chips on the ground. No one is around. No kids in the yard. I wonder who lives here but I’m scared to find out.
    Cat – Ahh the sun. First on my front, then on my back, now on my front again. I hear the birds. Doves perhaps. I won’t run from that dog over there in the shade. She can’t hear anyway. Just show her my arch if she comes near. The grass on my belly scratches. It wasn’t mowed yesterday, or the day before. It doesn’t have the fresh-cut smell. But I love it anyway.
    Girl in a divorce -Sometimes I hate this house! I can’t believe we are still here. After all these years. All the plants I look at, I can remember when we started them growing. My parents don’t know I remember, but I do. When I look at that picket fence I remember the guy who came over to build it. He sat on the curb, smoking pot. He almost hit a gas line digging that old tree out. We called it the “ugly tree”. And that ginormous rosemary bush. Befor it was planted the potato vine stood there, lonesome. It’s branches moping. But now it’s in the backyard with the trampoline and vacant dirt. I look over at the giant bird of paradise. That’s what it’s called, and it lives up to the name. It’s taller than our house. The bigger it grows the fatter it gets. Kind of like me. And there are dead flowers at the tops. Like I feel inside sometimes. Who will cut them down?

  23. So much fun! I think I’m goig to add this exercise into my unit on Point of View. My Middle Schoolers will have a blast with this!

    The muggy air blankets over the suburban street. There is a busy intersection with an ongoing number of impatient drivers waiting for the green cue to continue their journey forward. The streets are lined with boutique shops and charming café-styled restaurants, but at the moment no one walks the streets. The sky is slowly turning from mousy grey to a deep shade of slate intermixed with dark looming clouds.

    PART TWO (satisfied house cat)
    Finally, no one is trying to disturb my sleep. The always coming-and-going humans are always getting in my space and mussing with my fur, right after I just spent so much time grooming that one particular area behind my ear. It seems they all fear the impending storm. Until a raindrop hits, I’m going to enjoy how the wind is bristling through my fur and the peacefulness of my stoop as I listen to the mundane sound of cars whistling by on their way out of town.

  24. This prompt stretched me and sent me writing in YA for over an hour which is not typical for me. Thanks for the inspiration. I’ll share a small moment here.
    15 year old-
    “I’m alone! All alone!” I screamed inside my head.
    Rain pelted at my back and wet branches snapped and grabbed me as I meandered into the dreariness of the night with the dim light fading across the lawn behind our house. I escaped deeper into the dark shroud of forest.
    This was the beginning of what I thought would be the darkest moment of my life.
    At 15 life was over. My parents just broke the news. Dad announced in our den moments before, smiling faces of family photos in the background, “Mom and I have put off telling you, but the pain will be worse if we keep it from you any longer. We are getting a divorce.”
    As Dad’s voice droned on muffled in my ears no longer making sense, my head began to throb and those faces on the mantle seemed to begin mocking me with laughter.
    Now I was lost in the dark.

  25. Part 1

    The trees are so close together, they make a curtain of green. The leaves are swayed by the gentle breeze. The leaves at the edge of the woods are spotlighted by the sun. The butterflies are flitting thought the air looking for a place to rest. The phlox are turning their faces to the sun. The woods usually a cacophony of sound are so quiet at at this moment. Is it too hot for the birds to be singing, the squirrels to be climbing, the acorns to be falling, and the branches to be splitting?

    Part 2 – !5 year old after being told her parents are divorcing

    Before I knew what was happening, I ran out the door. Crying so hard, I ran blindly, not caring where I was going. All I knew is I had to get away fast. My feet led my body and before I knew it, I was in my safe place. This was the place in the woods where I feel sheltered from the world by the green curtain of leaves. The dappled sunlight wraps me in a warm blanket of security. The birds sing their sweet melodies drowning out all of the thoughts churning in my brain, calming me. I never want to leave this place. Why can’t we be a happy family like I see all the time on Nick at Nite?

  26. I really enjoyed this assignment, especially because I’m a beginner TW Camper and I don’t really have a WIP yet!

    Me: I am sitting on an old but precious bench that I used to sit on with my grandma when it sat in her front yard. The iron parts are painted green beneath a layer of bee dust and pollen. The wooden parts are worn, a mottled brown, gray, and white. Beside me, there is a bird’s nest that I rescued from a vine that I tore down as it was taking over one of my favorite azaleas. The nest’s colors match the shabby colors of the bench.

    15 year old: A heron from some nearby swamp just flies over the house. And there goes a bluejay, followed viciously by a mockingbird. I watch their shadows dart rapidly across the driveway in front of me. Hard to believe that today is a normal day for them. Same goes for the dogs barking at the neighbor’s and the people driving their cars down Camellia Boulevard nearby. I jealously think that some of those people might actually be happy.

    Looking down, I notice a gently breeze causing the weeds in mom’s garden begin to tremble. Ha! A garden full of weeds- just goes to show that our home, once so well taken care of, is decaying. Just like our family.

    1. Your description from the 15 year old’s point of view is so powerful! Her bitterness and sadness all tied up into her envy of happy people and observation of the weeds . Wow. Great writing!

    2. I loved that the nest matched the colors in the bench. That really drew me in. I also loved, as someone else mentioned, the weeds in the garden reflecting the disarray of her family.

  27. 1st description: the pond glimmers under the bright summer sun, the water dappled with shiny tips of light. Cattails gather in spots around the edge, bowing in the breeze. Dragonflies hover above the dock, bright iridescent greens and yellows, and Queen Anne’s Lace dons the field. The horse dips his brown head to graze, his tail swishing off the flies. Cicadas hum.

    15 yr old: I watch Dallas, my horse, eat so peacefully in the lonely field. I tear up as I remember when I got him for Christmas when I was 8. I can remember my uncle driving him up the driveway on that snowy December day – my favorite holiday. I wasn’t sure what was going on when my parents, laughing and holding hands, ushered me out the front door, big smiles on their faces, beaming at each other and me. I could feel the excitement, happiness, anticipation. When I realized the trailer held a horse, and that he was MINE, I jumped up and down, squealing. I hugged them both, and as I went to greet my new horse and glanced back, they were hugging each other. Now no one is hugging or smiling or happy. I wonder what will happen to Dallas since we have to move – my dad to an apartment and Mom and me to my grandparents house. No one has room for a horse. No one really has room for me.

    1. Your last sentence punctuated the whole piece – her despair over not only the divorce, but her identity getting lost and hr idyllic world getting shattered in the process.

  28. PART ONE: Take a pad of paper and a pen or pencil. Go outside and look around. Write
    a paragraph describing your surroundings.
    The sun shines down on the lake creating shimmers of diamonds on the water. They dance and shimmy as the water wanders gently toward the north shore. The air is crisp and cool, cleansed by the previous night’s gentle rainfall. Ferns scattered across the pine needle blanket lawn wave good morning to the day ahead.
    Inside I hear the hum of NPR through the static on the ancient radio, occasionally punctuated by the clatter of my mother putting away last night’s clean dishes. My dad hollers from the bathroom in frustration, “I can’t find my toothpaste, Rita!”

    PART TWO: Now, you are a lost six year-old child. Rewrite the same description from
    this point of view.
    I wander toward the porch of this big house. My footsteps crunch the pine needles beneath my feet. Woodland creatures skittle in the woods behind me, and in the distance, a bird I don’t recognize calls out to its mate. Maybe someone here can help me find my way home. As I round the corner of the house toward the porch, the lake stretches out in front of me. Diamonds! There are diamonds on this lake! Surely in a place this grand, someone can help me find my way home.
    Now, you are a satisfied housecat. Rewrite the same description from this
    point of view.
    This sun is perfect. I intend to sit in this very spot all day long. From here, I can watch the diamonds on the water dance, and keep my eyes peeled for critters trying to get at my people. I’ll teach them to go after what’s mine! This is MY house, my people, my sun, and my porch. What’s that? I tilt my head and sniff the gentle breeze. Chipmunk. He’ll stay away, if he knows what’s good for him. Even those crumbs under the table are mine. Satisfied that he has noticed me and will keep a respectful distance, I curl my head beneath my tail and fall contentedly to sleep.
    Now, you are a fifteen year-old whose parents just announced they are
    divorcing. Rewrite the same description from this point of view.
    The breeze picks up momentum and slaps me in the face with her cool, crisp hand. I plop down on the porch steps and stare out over the water. The diamonds on the lake, which usually bring me comfort, seem to laugh at me. “Grow up, kid!” They seem to say. “Lake diamonds aren’t real. We are just the sun reflected on shifting water. Like your life, we look one way, but are another. We are false, just like your family. Try to touch us and we vanish under the waves. Just like your family.”

  29. First description:

    The city is a maze. Buildings jostle one another, vying for the attention of tourists and locals alike. Neon signs blaze during daylight hours. Giant complexes of shiny glass and chrome consume brick and mortar stores on the main street, but duck back down the alleyway and twist sideways to fit down the stairs to the good stuff. It’s still there, if you know where to look; up rickety staircases and in basements if you dare to stray away from the tourist information signs.


    “Do you want that, Izzy?”

    The on the hanger is positively frothy with ribbons and lace. It’s cute the way a cupcake is cute, but Izzy shakes her head. Where would she wear it? A beribboned thing like that might fit in in a place like this, but she would stand out like a sore thumb at home: an awkward, unfashionable sore thumb.

    Besides, she knows that this is guilt money. Izzy dreamed of going to Japan since she first settled down to watch Sailor Moon on TV in the morning before school with a bowl of cereal balanced on her knee. Her father invited her on this business trip a week after her mother dropped the bomb.

    She shoves the skirt back on the rack and storms out of the little shop. She stands in the middle of the busy street, blinking in the dizzying sunlight.

    That got a little long, so the rest of it, and the other descriptions, are here.

  30. Trying to use the changing fall leaves as a metaphor for what my main character is going through–without coming right out and saying it–was a fun challenge. I\’m sure this still needs lots of work. C\’mon Greg A, lemme have it 🙂 :
    \”Go for a walk and get the stink off!\” his mom demanded as he finished clearing the table after dinner. Too much clunking and slamming and sighing.
    Mike shuffled down the sidewalk.
    Golden hour.
    The sun drifted through the leaves making them appear more translucent. He kept his head down, watching his All-Stars step heavily. This was the perfect time of year. The air had a crispness to it–like biting into a just-picked apple. Leaves were beginning to lose their bright green of summer. Yellows were beginning to edge in, and he knew that soon his street would be a canvas of reds and oranges. Beautiful and idyllic–a painter\’s dream.
    So why was he so crabby? That\’s what his mom had asked him.
    \”I don\’t know.\”
    \”What do you mean you don\’t know? Did something happen in school? Are you and Chaz fighting? Is it a girl?\”
    \”I just feel… I don\’t know.\” Why do girls always seem to know exactly what they\’re feeling and why? he wondered. What\’s wrong with me?
    Now on the sidewalk heading towards the coffee shop, he trekked through his brain trying to put his finger on what exactly was wrong. He\’d had arguments with Chaz before. He\’d had disagreements with classmates before–he\’d always looked at things from a slightly different point of view.
    But this seemed different.
    He kicked a fallen maple leaf and watched the green-yellow foliage fly up into the air before floating back down.
    \”And these children that you spit on as they try to change their world,\” he sang, \”are immune to your consultation. They\’re quite aware what they\’re going through–Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!\”
    \”Yeah, Bowie, you had it right,\” he mumbled. \”But I don\’t know if I can turn and face the strange.\”

    1. There are some details you snuck into this piece that made it really strong – the All-Stars stepping heavily, heading to the coffee shop, Bowie. I laughed when he wondered why girls always know what they’re feeling. I don’t think that’s true, but we sure like to talk about it.;-) I like this character and want to know more about him.

  31. PART ONE: Take a pad of paper and a pen or pencil. Go outside and look around. Write
    a paragraph describing your surroundings.

    The backyard looks like a messy California family lives here, because one does. You can see the attempts at noble hobbies — gardening, sports, carpentry — discarded in a way that makes me think of Pompeii’s ruins and California’s faddishness all at once. The drought and the children have exacted their punishment on the mangy yard where a slumped soccer net shouts in fluorescent orange at the barrels full of nearby succulents.

    PART TWO: Now, you are a lost six year-old child. Rewrite the same description from
    this point of view.

    Whoah, what is that? I want my mom, and I am calling her name, MOM! And I keep trying to walk around looking for her, but then I see something cool! MOM! I want to play with that tetherball set, but what if I don’t find… MOM! Maybe if I climb up on that ladder I will see where she went. Oooooh, I wonder where the soccer ball went? Are there kids around here who want to play? Maybe I can find some kids. They can help me find mom. Then maybe mom will let me play with them! I would like to do hide and seek in this place!

    Now, you are a satisfied housecat. Rewrite the same description from this
    point of view.

    Where did that squirrel go? I am going to get him! If he thinks I can’t climb that tree… I certainly and indeed can and will climb that tree, I tell you. A squirrell is a hyper little spaz! I can leap from barrel to ladder ledge to tree branch and devour him if I choose! But why not play with the little squirrel a while instead. I will laze in this warm brown patch and sing, and watch his little squirell body quiver, I tell you.

    Now, you are a fifteen year-old whose parents just announced they are
    divorcing. Rewrite the same description from this point of view.

    Man, when did the yard shrink? God, it makes my stomach hurt, looking at our yard now. I miss it! It’s here! I miss it though! Where is my hammock?God, I loved that hammock. Did my mom take it down? Did it rot away? I bet so. I bet it rotted. Figures. One less thing to fight over who gets it I guess. Mom will keep this place, but I wish we’d all just leave. Let’s all get three brand new places and forget how crappy we all felt when this yard went to hell and so did my family.

    1. Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to paste it all! I’d delete but don’t see how? I know it’s too long!