2.1 Setting as antagonist
Nothing happens nowhere.
(Elizabeth Bowen, in Burroway, 2003)
Showing your story's setting is just as important as creating convincing characters. Character itself is a product of place and culture, so the interplay of both contributes to your story's meaning and significance. Elizabeth Bowen's maxim warns of the kind of floundering and confusion which arises without a firm grounding in place.
Make a list of objects you remember from your childhood home. Don't use any particular order or many adjectives. Don't censor yourself – something seemingly unimportant may evoke strong impressions. Read through your list and circle the objects that evoke the strongest feelings and memories of events.
What are these events?
Do you see a story lurking there?
Now write a paragraph describing one of these events.
Where exactly did it happen?
What objects were involved?
Don't use any overtly sentimental language – let the details speak for themselves.
Example: In the space beneath the staircase I find my old dog's house, with his shaggy hairs caught in the rough edges of the wood planks, although the dog is long gone.
If you don't spell out the emotional significance of the dog, you create poignancy without sentimentality.
Write a scene in which a character is unhappy in his or her surroundings. For example, he or she might be:
Show the feelings through the descriptions of the place, rather than by naming the feelings.
Write one paragraph describing a place where you have worked. Describe how the people used their tools, machines or other equipment. Try to engage our senses, as shown in the Richard Yates’ example given in the ‘Setting for special effects’ section of item 5 in the Anthology.
Think about how mood and circumstances affect perception. In 250 words, describe a supermarket visited by a woman who has just received a promotion at work.
Now, in another 250 words, write about the supermarket from the perspective of the same woman, who has just ended a love affair.
List 6 objects found in a character's bedroom, office, garage, or other semi-private space. Be specific. Name them, for example:
Describe them, for example:
In 200 words, describe the character's space in a way that provides clues to character. Now consider: could any of these objects lead to a larger story? For example:
- Is there a shameful or glorious memory attached to one of them?
- Do any of them belong to someone else?
- Is one of them being hidden on behalf of another character?
Jot down some plot ideas.
Read through your work on Activities 14, 16, 17 and 18. Choose two that you would like to develop further.