Lesson #82: Exercises for SETTING

From now on, every five lessons we will incorporate an “exercise” lesson. Consider these lessons the “workbook” portion of your very own “Write Nook Textbook”.

Take what you’ve learned from these last few lessons on setting. You can use the prompts/exercises below (modifying them if you’d like) or search for similar exercises from trustworthy sites/books (one of our favorites: Donald Maas’ book and workbook, “Writing the Breakout Novel”). These exercises are meant to help you develop your craft. We promise that if you take the time to “exercise,” your craft will get stronger and flourish!

  1. Why does setting matter? (See Lesson #78)

In Lesson #78, Darcie discusses why setting matters. Darcie asks questions such as: Where does a story take place? Why is this place significant?

An exercise for you: 

Plot point: a woman stands against The Powers That Be to gain a right or privilege she feels is lacking

Question: would this story be the same in different settings? Would it be a different story all together?
Exercise: This woman is an American living in New York City. How likely is she to meet her objective? What factors come into play (socioeconomic, political, cultural, religious etc?)
This woman lives in Saudi Arabia. Answer the same questions as above?
This woman lives in South Korea.
This woman lives in Communist China.
This woman lives in Great Britton.
Summarize your conclusion about the importance of setting and its influence on the story.
  1. What role/purpose does setting play? (See Lesson #79)

In Lesson #79, Kayla discusses how you can utilize setting to make the biggest impression on your reader. Kayla asks questions such as: why is setting so important? What does setting accomplish in a story?

An exercise for you:

What role does your current setting play? What does your setting accomplish in your story? Consider options from the following list to give your setting a good ol’ fashioned workout:

  • Pinpoint at least 12 details about a specific setting from either your favorite novel or the novel you are currently reading. (Gutters of New York? Family with ten children? 221b Baker Street? Winter? Muggles?)
  • Stretch your imagination. Come up with 12 new details about your setting. Remember: setting includes MANY facets. Era, culture, season, region, etc.
  • Flip your setting. If your novel takes place in winter, see how it would work in the summer. If your novel revolves around a family with ten children, make your character an only child. Etc.
  1. Incorporating the senses (See Lesson #80)

In Lesson #80, Becca discusses the five senses and how they can be used to deepen a narrative, POV, and setting. Becca asks questions such as: how can the senses make a setting stronger? How many senses should I incorporate per scene/chapter – and how much detail should I include?

An exercise for you:

Go to your book shelf (or e-reader) and open up a book you enjoyed. Copy down the first ten sentences and then highlight every word that contributes to setting detail. Now do the same thing in your WIP. Compare and contrast the two. Are you too sparse, or are you dragging the action with too much description? Are you using verbs to help set the scene (i.e., “jogging”-slow and without urgency or terror vs. ” running” which could be fast, slow, urgent, or leisurely)?

Rewrite your opening ten lines to up the description without adding more words.
  1. Creating a setting that’s as strong as a character (see Lesson #81)

In Lesson #81, Kim discusses creating a setting that is as strong/complex/engaging as another character. Kim asks questions such as: how strong is your setting? How do we make a setting as intriguing/deep as a character?

An exercise for you:

We’re going to do a “character” sheet about your setting to see how strong it is.

Let’s get to it:
1- Where is your setting?
2- When is your setting?
3- What are three characteristics of your setting that are unique to it? Things that you see that can be in the description.  (Three things you can sprinkle throughout the story that will make it stand out)
4- What are some sensory details that make your story stand out? (Use the five senses to think about this. For instance when we lived on an island in Alaska – the fish processing plant has such an intense smell that not only did it overwhelm your sense of smell but it made you TASTE the smell as well. Talk about sensory overload!!)
5- Is there anything unique about the native people in your setting? In the buildings?
Now – ask yourself this question: If you took your story out of this setting and plopped it into a completely different setting – would your story still work? If your answer is yes, then your setting isn’t strong enough to be a main character. Do your research and find some unique things to use in your setting or about your setting to make
it stronger.

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