|Snoopy's world was limited in space, but imagination meant anything could happen! |
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Setting is often a key element in our story. Sometimes it can even be a character in the story like the big old house in Tim Winton's Cloudstreet. But often new writers overlook this and just have the setting as somewhere for stuff to take place.
I have an exercise I do with students when I run creative writing workshops for kids, it helps them to understand how setting can affect our story. I thought I'd share it with you now. Try this exercise with the setting to your WIP, but first use a few of the random ones suggested here as a warm up. We did this exercise in my writing group today and there were some interesting writing prompts from it.
If you're in a group, write these settings down on scraps of paper (add some of your own if you like) and disperse randomly. Otherwise, pick out two or three to work with.
- Pirate ship
- Australian bush
- Homeless gathering
- High school
- Fantasy land
- Ski lodge
- Police station
Now you simply write two lists.
One list is for plot ideas or motivations that can be generated from this setting, e.g. in a Prison, escape, trying to stay good for parole, guard might on their last day because they're quitting for a safer security job, governor or head of the prison might be trying to meet budget cuts or there could be an alien invasion on earth and the prison is the safest place from land attacks.
The second list is all the threats that setting presents. In the Prison it could be knifing, drugs, vicious guards, attack dogs, lockdown and left without food in your cell (as all the guards have been killed off by the aliens), riots, lack of empathy from outside community, or losing your sanity.
Once you have a few lists, pick a plot idea and at least one threat then write for 10-15 minutes and see what you come up with, you might find yourself with a decent piece of flash fiction or the start of something bigger!
Now you've warmed up properly, pull out your own setting and see if you can find more threats or possibilities that could strengthen your WIP.
I'm currently working on a story where the little sister of Isis is resurrected in New York City 5,000 years later. So my setting is split between Ancient Egypt and New York City. Here's my list for Ancient Egypt:
- Secrets and plots
- Superstitions and religion
- Amulets and protection magic
- Came race
- Mummified alive
- Rabid Camel
- Heat, sun exposure
- Floods (The area by the Nile was not a desert but quite lush back then)
- Evil Gods
- Sentenced to death
If you try it out I'd love to see some of your suggestions for plot ideas or dangers for setting.
This post is part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, challenges are posted once a month, you can sign up to join in here (or click on the picture). Now there's a few hundred participants, so it'll take me a while to get around to everyone, but I'll certainly try before the next challenge!
Realised, I should mention my writing insecurity! Mine is when I've finished that first draft and got all the plot details down, I won't be able to figure out that magic ingredient that adds life and pop to the book, it'll end up a bit bleh. What I do about it is exercises like this one to strengthen different elements of the story.