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Setting Creative writing
Transcript of Setting Creative writing
Consider the following questions when
you create a setting!
What is setting?
Introduction to Setting
Simply put, the setting of a story is where it takes place.
-> The physical, geographical location of the story.
-> The location in time.
-> The political climate and social conditions in which the story takes place.
But what makes a setting important? Which aspects can we think about as we write?
Food for thought: There are a variety of strategies you may employ while developing setting, including:
1. Beginning your story with a small, detail-oriented piece of setting description (a HOOK), and zooming out from there to clarify setting.
2. Describing the wider, more general setting and then gradually narrowing down to specific detail.
3. Beginning with characterization, narration, or action and gradually revealing setting.
Aspect 1: Setting as Mood
Authors may use a specific setting to create a TONE or MOOD. Tone is the attitude an author has toward a subject. Mood is the underlying feeling of the story. The imagery (language that evokes one or more of the five senses) and detail that we use to describe the setting directly affects the TONE and MOOD. As writers, we should constantly think about whether the language we choose to describe the setting has positive or negative connotations. The more specific our detail choices are, the more immersed our reader will feel - and the more trust they will have in us as narrator!
Examples from Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, this week's focus:
- "One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets. And then a long wave of warmth crossed the small town. A flooding sea of hot air; it seemed as if someone had left a bakery door open. The heat pulsed among the cottages and bushes and children. The icicles dropped, shattering, to melt. The doors flew open. The windows flew up. The children worked off their wool clothes. The housewives shed their bear disguises....The rocket lay on the launching field, blowing out pink clouds of fire and oven heat. The rocket stood in the cold winter morning, making summer with every breath of its mighty exhausts." ("Rocket Summer")
- "They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind. Afternoons, when the fossil sea was warm and motionless, and the wine trees stood stiff in the yard, and the little distant Martian bone town was all enclosed, and no one drifted out their doors, you could see Mr. K himself in his room, reading from a metal book with raised hieroglyphs over which he brushed his hand, as one might play a harp. And from the book, as his fingers stroked, a voice sang, a soft ancient voice, which told tales of when the sea was red steam on the shore and ancient men had carried clouds of metal insects and electric spiders into battle." ("Ylla")
Aspect 3: Setting as Thematic Springboard
Most stories can only take place under certain social, political, or historical conditions. The writer’s goal is to place the story in a particular context that will help them to express their message. Detail and consistency is necessary here, as is obeying the "rules" you've laid out for your specific setting.
-In "The Martian Chronicles," Bradbury uses the hypothetical colonization of Mars to explore themes of:
...How humans rely on memory and nostalgia to survive and retain their humanity.
...Humanity's tendency to exploit, destroy, and dehumanize as part of the process of colonization.
...The importance of nonconformity, both in a moral sense and as a survival technique.
He also incorporates alien (Martian) characters to portray human themes of jealousy, betrayal, grief, fear, and loneliness. Interpreting these emotions through an alien lens helps to give them fresh life.
-In "The Veldt," another Bradbury story, Bradbury uses a hypothetical future setting to explore the effect that over-dependence on technology might have on human relationships.
-In 1984, George Orwell creates a story in which the main character exists within a hyper-totalitarian society. Without this political context, this story would not exist in its present form.
Aspect 2: Setting as Symbol
A symbol is an object, person, action, sound, or movement that represents something other than itself. A symbol is usually a CONCRETE representation of something ABSTRACT. Symbolism is often used to help the reader understand a complex or abstract idea. Your setting itself can be a symbol! The only primary risk in using a symbolic setting is that it may seem unbelievable or overly stylized. Incorporating strong imagery, original diction, and in-depth characterization will help in a story with strong setting symbolism!
Common symbolic settings include:
Lake/ocean/stream: Cleansing, birth, purifying, etc. (do we see this in "Ylla")?
Stormy/bad weather: Violent human emotions
The forest: A place of mystery or evil
A garden: A paradise or haven
Window of an enclosed room: Freedom or lack thereof
Desert: Lifelessness, death, lack of passion (do we see this in "Ylla"?)
Winter vs. Summer: Death vs. Life, Death vs. Rebirth, Infertility vs. Fertility (do we see this in "Rocket Summer"?)
Aspect 4: Setting as Conflict
Setting may be used to jump-start conflict in a story.
-In "The Martian Chronicles," much of the conflict ensues as a result of the humans attempting to colonize Mars; this evokes person vs person conflict (humans vs. Martian, humans vs. human, Martian vs. Martian), person vs. self conflict (as humans and Martians question their motives and identity), person vs. society, person vs. nature (Mars), and more. If this story didn't explore this specific Martian setting, these conflicts would not erupt in the same manner.
-In "The Veldt," another Bradbury story, the children's nursery (which only exists in this hypothetical future setting!) acts as a springboard for major conflict!
What is unique about this setting?
Could this story be as effective in any other setting?
How does this setting relate to the theme of the story?
What does the setting look, feel, sound, smell, and taste like?
Do the characters feel positively or negatively about the setting? Why?
What are the dangers of this setting?
Does this setting help to create a specific mood?
What attitude (tone) do I want to express?
What are the common beliefs and values held in this setting?
How does this setting "work" (i.e. social and political systems)?
What is the weather like in this setting?
Aspect 5: Setting and Characterization
If you're trying to fit a lot of information in a short amount of space, try multi-tasking! If you're entering the point of view of a character (whether the story is from first person perspective OR omniscient third person), HOW a character describes or experiences the setting will reveal a good deal about the character, including:
- Emotions (happy, irritable, content, depressed)
- State of mind (distracted, curious, etc.)
- Personality (kind, cruel, talented, strong, naive)
For example, a character who is young, naive, or unfamiliar with the setting may describe it in a very different way from someone who is older, more informed, and more familiar
with the setting. In "Ylla," the way that we see the Martian landscape through Ylla's eyes (third person omniscience POV) causes us to view it in a more familiar way than if we were initially seeing it through human eyes. We see her familiarity with it, but also her ennui and her anxiety.
"Many apprentice writers write what I call the “Nowhere and Everywhere Story.” Their stories occur in a temporal and cultural vacuum. The setting could just as easily be a small town in Pennsylvania as a small town in Florida, a suburb of Los Angeles as a suburb of New York City, a farm in Oregon as a farm in Ohio.
Most of the time, it’s because they assume that...since oftentimes the students in workshop are from the same state...it's understood that the story is set in the kind of place they are from...I always try to get my creative writing students to focus on setting, but I often get blank looks. It’s like asking a fish to talk about the water in which it swims. What are you talking about? the fish says. It’s just the world, ya know? The only way the fish can possibly describe the water it swims in every day, all day, is to remove it from the water—and then put it back.
Or another analogy: living your life is like listening to an LP record. If someone asks, What do you hear? you would describe the music only. You wouldn’t describe the sound underneath the music, the little hisses and pops the needle makes. Maybe you don’t even hear those hisses and pops anymore; you’ve learned to tune them out.
But, if you become a writer, you have to train yourself to largely ignore the music that most people consider “life” and focus instead on the hisses and pops underneath.
Nowhere and everywhere must become somewhere."
"Everywhere and Nowhere"
(Quote from author and teacher Cathy Day)