Good morning, writers!
Your Thursday Quick-Write today is courtesy of my friend & fellow mystery lover, Erin Dionne. Erin lives outside of Boston, where she writes, reads, teaches, and juggles family life. Her latest book, Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking (Dial Books) is a race-against-the-clock adventure set in Boston.
Erin has two young kids, so she writes most of her books in her local coffee shop or local library. She’s also an associate professor of Liberal Arts at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts. When she’s not writing or teaching, she’s having dance parties with her kids, spending time with her husband, or managing the expectations of their disgruntled family dog.
Often, setting gets overlooked when we’re drafting and revising. It becomes a “backdrop” on which our characters perform. In reality, our surroundings influence us in many ways each day—consider everything from the weather, to how comfortable the furniture is where you work or live, to ambient sound (lawn mowers, traffic, etc). In my latest novel, Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking (Dial Books, 2013), the city of Boston becomes a character that Moxie and her best friend explore.
For this quick write, I am asking you to take away your characters and focus only on setting. Let’s see what you can pull from your setting to influence your story. Here goes:
- Choose a significant moment in your story (could be a climactic scene, could be the beginning…whatever feels important to you right now).
- Open a fresh page/document/etc, and just describe where this scene is taking place. Really dig into the details: what type of floor is in this space? How clean/dirty is it? What’s on the walls? What’s out the window? What noises do you hear (even in a room devoid of people, there are sounds—hums of electronics, clicking/ticking clocks, whoosh of heating/ac/fans)? If your characters are outside, address similar elements: what is the weather like? Wind conditions? Sun? Is this an industrial area? Woods? Is there litter? Graffiti? What does it say? Do you hear birds? Other animals? Planes? Sounds coming from other houses/teepees/hobbit holes? Don’t forget smells! Fresh cut grass, musky swamps, microwaved burritos or the tuna sandwich in the next cubicle. Your goal is to be as detailed as possible. Write in full sentences, lists, whatever works for you (you can draw a chart for all 5 senses and fill it in, if that helps).
- Now, when you’ve gotten every last detail down, review what you have. Identify 3-5 elements of setting that you did not incorporate in your existing scene but might influence your characters. What are they? Is the smell of that sandwich making your pregnant protag nauseous while she talks to her boss about a raise? Does your main character really regret not putting on sunscreen this morning? Is the incessant ticking of the heirloom clock in the living room adding to a character’s insomnia?
Hopefully, you’ve discovered some ways setting can expand and reinforce what’s going on in your story.
Have fun! I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Note from Kate: Feel free to share in the comments if you’d like! We’ll draw a random commenter to win a signed hardcover of Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking (Dial, 2013).