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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Writing Exercise: Two-Faced Settings
Today's writing exercise deals with setting.  The location of a story influences not only the action but also the mood.  We're going to experiment with manipulating the mood.

1) Choose a setting.  You might like to browse some photos of architecture or landscapes for inspiration.

2) Imagine what it would be like to visit that place.  What might you experience there?  How would each of your senses respond?  Jot down a few ideas in neutral, objective tones.  For example, a beach scene might include notes like "low tide, sunny, dead fish, seashells, light brown sand."

3) Write a detailed paragraph describing the place in negative  terms.  Include at least five specific details.  Use sensory input and word choice to make the setting seem unpleasant.  Try to influence the reader to feel sad, wary, angry, or other dark emotions.  The beach scene might now begin: "Hot sun baked the beach to crumbly grit.  The receding waves left a single dessicated mackerel reeking near the high-tide line."

4) Revisit the same setting, but this time describe it in positive  terms.  At least three of the details should be ones from Step #3 above, rendered in a fresh light; the other two may be different ones.  Tune the sense imagery and vocabulary to help readers experience happiness, anticipation, excitement, or other bright emotions.  The new beach scene might start like: "Sunlight warmed the beach as the tide went out, relaxed waves lolling against the sand.  Two fiddler crabs waved to each other as they shared a plump mackerel that had washed ashore."

5) Add a character to the scene described in Step #3 above.  Spend a paragraph or two explaining what this person is doing there and what they experience.  Repeat this step with the scene from Step #4.

6) You can stop here if you wish, but if you're getting good results from one or the other example, by all means continue.  For extra credit, have the two characters meet each other, and try to figure out how to juxtapose their opposed experiences!

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4 comments or Leave a comment
msstacy13 From: msstacy13 Date: August 23rd, 2010 02:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Sinclair Lewis does this in Main Street,
describing a small town's main street from the perspective of a person who has moved there
from St Paul, and then a second time from the perspective of an immigrant
who has recently arrived from Sweden.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 23rd, 2010 02:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

That's a fascinating example.
clarionj From: clarionj Date: August 23rd, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ha, interesting exercise. I always try to use setting for mood and like when it's nearly a character in itself. I never tried an exercise though where I describe the same scene from these two opposing perspectives; I like the idea of then melding them via characters.

I won't try it now because I need to work on my works in progress, but ... it's going to be tempting. :) And I WILL be trying to enhance setting in the WIP because I want to use it as a tension device as well!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 23rd, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC) (Link)


I'm glad you found this interesting and perhaps useful.
4 comments or Leave a comment