12 Baby Steps to a Complete Story: Setting

A Pen In Each Hand

So you have an idea, but you don’t know where to start… and the end seems so far away it might as well be on Pluto. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Follow the 12 Baby-Steps to a Complete Story and you’ll be on your way. Each month, we’ll post a new exercise. Do each month’s exercise and by the end of the year, you’ll have a polished story (or personal essay, if you prefer non-fiction) ready to submit!

The time-line here is designed for a short piece of writing, not a book, but if you’d like to do it with a novel idea, you’re welcome to. If you’d just like to do the exercises as practice, and use different pieces for each exercise, that’s fine too. Adapt the exercises any way you like. There are no rules, just ideas.

Background Image: Chad Norman (CC-by-nc-sa)

March: Setting
Exercise #3

Describe your setting. Write 1 page describing the location of your story. This is not just “New York City” or “the Australian outback”. Imagine that you’re looking through a camera and gradually narrow your focus. Concentrate on details and remember to use all five senses.

For example, say your story takes place in a cafe. Instead of just naming the city the cafe is in, narrow it down to a specific neighborhood and describe what that neighborhood is like. You might describe the street the cafe is on, what businesses are next to it, what the people on the street are wearing, what time of year it is, what the weather’s like, etc. Go inside the cafe and describe what it’s like. Is it tacky or trendy? Unique or a chain clone? Does the food smell delicious or disgusting? Is the restaurant crowded or empty? Narrow your focus even further and describe the table your character sits at. Do they always sit in the same place or is this the first time they’ve been here? Booth or table? Maybe their chair wobbles or the table is stained with sticky rings. What’s on the table? Salt & pepper shakers, a menu, the tip from the last person to sit there? etc. Keep narrowing your focus until you run out of things to describe.

If your story takes place in more than one location, choose the most important or central location for this exercise. Post and ask for feedback on it. Find out if your setting seems real. Can your readers see/feel/taste/smell/hear it? Make changes / additions incorporating the suggestions you’re given.

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