Settings are important for all writing. Whatever your piece is about, and whether you're writing poetry, prose or plays, it's got to be set somewhere. The way you create settings in your piece has a big impact on your audience. If you do it right, you can set the mood for your piece and create tension, drama and emotion. If you do it wrong, well, the audience will struggle to follow your piece.
We held a workshop on how to describe settings at our June session. Firstly, we had to source some settings to write about. Some of us went out and about into the local area to take photos of things of interest. Where we meet at Blakenhall Community and Healthy Living Centre, we are in some interesting surrounds, such as a Sikh temple, an empty church, some abandoned industrial buildings and a park. Some of us looked through books to find pictures of settings which inspired us.
We had a think about what a 'setting' actually is. It's where a story takes place isn't it? It's a bit more than that. A setting can encompass the 'where' but also the 'what' and 'when.'
Where? - Country, town, street, house?
What? - A room, a car, a tree?
When? - Era (current day, historical, future), season/weather, time of day?
We wrote a few lines on our settings - just what we could see at first glance. But creating a setting is much more than just what you can see. We did an exercise where we imagined that we had been kidnapped, blindfolded, and left in a room. How would you describe that room to someone, when you couldn't see anything? You have to use the other 4 senses:
What can you hear? - Noises can give a lot away. Can you hear traffic, voices or footsteps? Or can you hear birdsong or running water?
What can you smell? - Are there any distinctive smells which remind you of a specific place? Food cooking, greenery, chemicals?
What can you taste? - Are any of the smells so strong you can actually taste them? Are you eating?
What can you feel? - Is the surface hard or soft? Is it warm or cold? Are you outside or inside?
Using all five senses to describe a setting really immerses the reader in the situation. It can make them imagine it very vividly!
Those of us who have all five of our senses tend to notice the things we can see first of all. But do we look past the details and see the overall? Do we see the blue sky and green hills instead of the birds flying and the flowers blooming? Our next exercise was to take our original setting and 'zoom in' until we could see the tiniest details (or imagined we could!) Then we wrote about those.
It can be easy to think that everyone is familiar with the settings we're describing - or forget that some people won't be. Our last exercise was to imagine a setting we were familiar with - somewhere we go very frequently. Then we imagined taking someone there who'd never been there before. What would they notice about the place?
So describing settings can be beneficial for your writing as it gives the reader lots of information about where and when your writing takes place. But what we learned is that you have to be careful about how to incorporate them into your writing - you need to ensure your audience can understand the setting through describing it effectively. You also need to incorporate all five senses into the description to heighten the impact of the setting. I think we're all a bit more confident in writing about settings now - I hope you are too.