Thursday, November 11, 2010

Writing Setting

My CW classes have recently studied the use of setting in fiction and how it can drive or impact a plot and character.  We moved beyond the initial understanding of setting as merely scenery.  The objective wast o get them to think about story in the sense that setting is part of the identity of the character.  Every object (pen, chair, light, vehicle, etc.), type of building or structure, electrical or household convenience, fabric, food item, piece of technology chosen to be in a story should be there for a very specific reason and play a very specific role.  By that I mean that if an author's setting is not carefully considered, the story occurs in a random time and a random place.  Characters behave in relation to their surrounding.

Consider this simple excerpt from Jack London's To Build a Fire:

He unbuttoned his jacket and shirt and drew forth his lunch. The action consumed no more than a quarter of a minute, yet in that brief moment the numbness laid hold of the exposed fingers. He did not put the mitten on, but, instead struck the fingers a dozen sharp smashes against his leg. 

The unnamed man in the story stops for a bite to eat.  He takes out a sandwich in the bitter and dangerous cold and starts a series of events leading to his succumbing to the deadly temperatures.  It is the cold, a very simple use of setting (tempertaure) which affects the next thing the man does: he repeatedly slams his fingers against his leg.

I'm not saying this is some great revelation, but it is a very clear example of how something in the setting affects an action or subsequent decision of a character.  Characters behave in relation to their surrounding.

As the story progresses, we see more examples of how the deadly cold seeps through his body and affects the next thing he does:

And he had not thought his fingers could go lifeless in so short a time. Lifeless they were, for he could scarcely make them move together to grip a twig, and they seemed remote from his body and from him. When he touched a twig, he had to look and see whether or not he had hold of it. 

He can no longer feel his fingers, so he looks down.  Simple.  Yet, if you have ever read a lot of 13 year old stories...

I teach 8th grade writers.  Kids who write stories and who want to be here and chose to do it.  A simple example like those provided above gives them a small tool to work with, consider, search for in other literature, and hopefully, in the end, improve their own creative writing.  

No comments:

Post a Comment