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2 Setting

2.1 Setting as antagonist

Nothing happens nowhere.

(Elizabeth Bowen, in Burroway, 2003)

Showing the setting in your story 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.

Activity 10

Click on ‘Setting’ below and read the introductory section, which deals with the importance of setting and its links with plot.

Setting [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Activity 11

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.

Activity 12

Click on ‘Setting as antagonist’ below and read the extract. This looks against place.

Setting as antagonist

Activity 13

Write a scene in which a character is unhappy in his or her surroundings. For example, he or she might be:

  • shy
  • frightened
  • disgusted
  • trapped
  • homesick

Show the feelings through the descriptions of the place, rather than by naming the feelings.

Activity 14

Write a scene in which two characters are quarrelling about the setting. One wants to stay and the other wants to leave. A setting could be:

  • a rowdy bar
  • Disney World
  • deserted beach
  • zoo
  • second-hand bookshop
  • school classroom
  • expensive hotel
  • alien spaceship

Activity 15

Click on ‘Setting for special effects’ below and read the extract.

Setting for special effects

Activity 16

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’ extract.


If you stated the type of workplace – an office, hospital ward or canning factory – delete the information and see whether it’s still obvious. If not, rewrite the piece with a focus on the sounds, sights, smells and general atmosphere of the place.

Activity 17

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.

Activity 18

List 6 objects found in a character’s bedroom, office, garage, or other semi-private space. Be specific. Name them, for example:

  • plants
  • books
  • magazine

Describe them, for example:

  • clothes
  • snacks
  • photographs
  • detritus

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.

Activity 19


Read through your work on Activities 14, 16, 17 and 18. Choose two that you would like to develop further.