Setting The Place

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    I went to workshop on Saturday about creating a sense of place in short stories and novels, which I found extremely useful as I don’t always think of setting as much as I should.

    One thing that I wanted to share was an exercise we did that I thought some of you might found useful. Depending how you work you can do this at the planning stage or when you are ready to edit.

    Basically you need to think of the main setting/place for your story (can be a city, a house, a room, a forest, etc… and then list details for the following category:

    1. Personality
    How does the place feel? What kind of emotions does it evoke? How does this translate concretely.

    Unique traits to that particular place (building type, architecture, objects, people in it, colours, state… (for example what are the physicality that tell you that you are in Brixton or Kensington)

    3. Mannerism
    Sounds, senses, smells, how it feels to the touch…

    4. Speech
    language, slangs, animal noises

    5. Law
    How do people behave in that place? What is allowed there?

    I found it really useful to help me get my settings come alive and be more than just a background to my stories. I hope this helps!


    Very interesting blog, Elle. Place is very important to me when I write and when I read. It’s often the element of a novel that stays with me longest after I’ve finished it. I try to think in terms of how the people in my story react with the space within the scene and what part the place has played in their lives but your list is very helpful.


    Thanks Elle. Setting is something I usually skim over, so I will try applying this and see what happens!


    Thanks Elle. These are good prompts. I’m very into settings, which I think comes from my previous life as a conservation ecologist – working in some amazing wild places. So I’ve always got to have a strong sense of the natural world that my story takes place in – weather, plants, animals, noises, tides, rock types … yeah maybe I go too far, but so much of it can be used to contribute to the mood of a scene that I love having those tiny details at my fingertips.

    THe human stuff always comes second, which is almost certainly the wrong way around!


    That sounds an interesting workshop, Elle.

    I think that treating ‘place’ as a character in its own right can add an extra dimension to a piece of writing, so that’s a handy checklist to follow. Thanks for sharing.


    Glad it is useful.

    The workshop was great and organised by Word Factory. I highly recommend them if you’re in London.

    After the workshop, some of us stayed behind to discuss what we learned and then after that they have a short story club where everybody read a designated story beforehand and then we spent an hour discussing it. The story this time was The metal bowl by Miranda July.

    It was really nice spending an afternoon with fellow writers and being unashamed to talk writing all afternoon!


    Really interesting, thanks for posting @elle. Place is crucial – for me it’s pretty much as vital as character and sometimes feels like character itself. I can’t write anything half decent without knowing what surrounds us, what the history is, how it has formed and influenced what’s going on ‘onstage’…

    Alan Rain

    Agree with all this. Use all 5 senses, and incorporate the sixth.

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