Coffee Break: Setting

Welcome to the first instalment of Coffee Break. These articles will be filled with writing prompts and advice that are tailored to a particular theme each month. This month the theme will be setting. This article will look at how to describe setting without leaving your writing clunky and how to make places memorable to the reader. So sit back, relax and have a pen and paper at the ready!

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It can often be questioned how much description is too much description when it comes to setting. The truth is that many people tend to overthink how to set the scene, which in turn, leaves it looking clunky and feeling forced. What you should try to focus on instead of what a physical place looks like, is to show the setting through the eyes of your main character.

Whilst travelling you are moe likely to immerse yourself in the culture and your surroundings. You wouldn’t just look at the old theatre just off the side street – you would watch an opera in there, get a few photos and socialise there too. This is exactly what your characters should be doing. It is for this reason why the show don’t tell method works brilliantly for setting the scene.

Here is an example of telling your readers what happened:

Susan looked around at the grubby tables in disgust. Just looking at the rubbish on the floor made her body shudder. She hated this place.

Here is an example of showing your readers what happened:

Susan pulled out her hand sanitiser and used it up to her forearms. She glanced at her friend and pulled on a pair of latex gloves, ‘best to be safe than sorry in this place.’ She put her coat on her seat and sat on her coat.

The first example uses some describes the main character’s feelings whilst the writer is describing the place, but all the reader knows is that the floor and table is dirty. However in the second example, the sanitiser and gloves represent that the place must be really dirty (not just a particular part such as the floor). So much so that the main character won’t even sit on the chair she has been given, without the comfort and safety of her coat. Furthermore by including dialogue, the characters actions are showcase and provides the reader with a more fluid sense on setting the scene. By setting the scene within your story you are effectively moving the story forward whilst adding description. Not only will this help the development of your characters but it will also help the pace of your writing.

Try this yourself! Imagine you have just gone to work in the middle of a heatwave. Describe your surroundings through your characters actions.

Keep me updated with your writing by leaving a comment below!

The rest of this month writing prompts will be given around the focus of setting, so stay tuned and keep writing!

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