5 Essential Exercises For Writing About Setting

5 Essential Exercises For Writing About Setting


We are posting a series of Essential Writing Exercises to help you tell your stories. This post includes five essential exercises for writing about setting.

On our course, Writers Write ONLINE, we spend time creating characters, plotting, learning to write dialogue, learning how to pace, and learning how to show and not tell. We teach you about viewpoint, setting, description, and scenes, and much, much more. In my series, I am going to concentrate on a few of these areas.

To help us get through this time of social distancing, I am going to post a series of Essential Writing Exercises to help you tell your stories. We’ve included exercises about creating characters, dialogue, viewpoint, plotting, setting, beginnings, and pacing.

This week I have included five essential exercises for writing about setting.

5 Essential Exercises For Writing About Setting

When we teach Writers Write ONLINE, we find that writers don’t spend enough time thinking about how to set their stories in space and time. They don’t pay attention to setting.

This does not mean that writers must tell readers about the story’s setting in great detail. Rather, they should mostly show it (with some telling) through their characters’ interactions with that setting.

A book without a well-imagined and well-conveyed setting is like watching actors on a green screen without the other elements having been added. It’s disconcerting and alienating.

The unintended consequences of a lack of setting creates a series of problems for the writer. These include wooden characters without things they need to do, a lack of empathy for the characters because readers cannot relate to their circumstances, and a lack of details that make the story come to life.

Read: 12 Crucial Things To Remember About Setting In Storytelling

To avoid these pitfalls, try our five essential exercises for writing about setting.

Exercise 1: Checklist

Use our world-building checklist to make sure that you have really thought about where you are setting your story. Fill this in before you start writing your story. If you have a few settings, complete the checklist for each setting. Please click here: The Ultimate Setting Checklist For World-Building

Exercise 2: The Change Indicator

Write about a character who comes home to find that their house has been burgled. Write the scene from the character’s viewpoint in first person present tense. Because everything has ‘changed’ in their space, you can get away with describing where they live and what possessions they have. If they just came home and nothing was different, they probably would not notice much. It would seem unnatural to a reader for a character to launch into thinking about their environment in detail without a good reason.

  1. Name the characters.
  2. Use the five sensesdialoguebody language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

Read: 20 Questions Characters Should Answer About Setting

Exercise 3: Coffee Time

Write about your character’s first cup of coffee or tea for the day. Write about where they make it as they make it. Show the character’s surroundings through the five senses and their actions.

Fill this in for the character:

  1. He/she smelled ________
  2. He/she tasted ________
  3. He/she touched ________
  4. He/she saw ________
  5. He/she heard ________

Write the scene in third person past tense.

  1. Name the characters.
  2. Use the five sensesdialoguebody language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

Exercise 4: Generic

Write about two character meeting for the first time. The setting is a castle. The characters names are Lucille and Dmitri. Write the same scene in three different genres: fantasy, crime, and romance. Different genres require different setting descriptions. For example, fantasy, romance, and crime novels all require detailed descriptions, but what they describe and the tone they use to describe it are very different.

Write the scenes in third person from one of the character’s viewpoints.

  1. Use the five sensesdialoguebody language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  2. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

Exercise 5: A Fish Out Of Water

Write a scene where your main character is thrust into a setting they don’t understand. A good example of this was Crocodile Dundee when he arrived in New York. This uses the change indicator again and allows you to explore character and setting and helps you show and not tell.

  1. Name the characters.
  2. Use the five sensesdialoguebody language, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.
  3. Show the setting through their interaction with it.

Read: 5 Ways Setting Affects Your Characters

The Last Word

Use these five essential exercises for writing about setting to help you paint a background for your stories.

Join us for Writers Write ONLINE for many more exercises like this (with feedback), and learn how to write a book.

© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this blogger’s writing, read:

  1. What Is Dramatic Irony & Why Should I Use It?
  2. 5 Essential Exercises For Plotting
  3. 5 Essential Exercises For Creating Characters
  4. 5 Essential Exercises For Writing Dialogue
  5. How To Finish Writing Your Book
  6. Thriller Book Title Generator
  7. The Almost Moment Is The Secret To Successful Romance Writing
  8. What Is Direct And Indirect Characterisation? And Which One Should I Use?
  9. 5 Steps To Creativity In Writing

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, sign up for our online course.