Setting #3 – Results

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Gwangali Beach. Photo Source: Me!

See other Writing Exercises from this blog.

On Tuesday, I wanted you to actually go somewhere different and write about that real-life setting.

I was intentionally vague about where you could go – a park, doctor’s office, beach, rooftop – as long as it’s a place you don’t go very often (or better yet, a new place not too far from home).

Even though I work close to Gwangali Beach, it’s rare for me to get much time there. It was a nice treat to have time to sit before a meeting of the Busan Writer’s Group began.

Here’s the setting description I came up with. I tried to include sensory info along with a general mood.

The low waves can’t drown out the constant running of car engines on the road behind. I can’t lose myself in this crescent slice of beach, with the city wrapped around so closely. Its growling engines and blaring horns are a few long strides behind, and the island of sand is not wide enough to fully escape into the sound of small waves breaking against land. Even the horizon will not let me forget the city, with the great suspension bridge stretching over the natural sky, ferrying an endless stream of cars across a dimming sky.

The sun sets behind me, and I sigh as I brush sand from a bench. The feel of the coarse grains spurs a thought, and I look closer at the sand under my black Doc Martens. Dry brown, it breaks apart quickly as I scoop with testing fingers. There is no sign of the earlier rain, no clumps of dark brown or half-dry sand to tell of the rain that fell for most of the day. The hours of sun, brief as they were, were enough to remove the memory of rain.

The evening wind brushes a tiny patter of sand against my cheek. I turn to see children, tossing sand as they laugh, oblivious to the wind that chills as it billows my jacket. I take shelter in the jacket, clutching it close as I sit. As the children play, their Korean falls in my limited understanding, and I am glad to know their playful words.

The wind picks up, adding salty flair strong enough to drown the constant exhaust. For a moment, the air is clean, and within that snapshot, I can believe I’ve left the city behind. The moment ends at the sound of my alarm, a light melody playing from my phone. I look at the display. Friends and fellow writers will meet amid the grinding of espresso machines and the chatter of small talk. I rise from my seat, ready to leave the slice of beach and return to the city around it.

I hope you’ll share your setting as well!

Setting #3 – Let’s go somewhere different


Alas, my own brick of a laptop is far too heavy and lasts all of 1 hour, if I’m lucky. Image from Wikimedia Commons


See other Writing Exercises from this blog.

I’m being quite literal with the title of this post – let’s actually go somewhere freaking different this week!

I’m serious, go somewhere with your pen and paper, or your portable device of choice (I have a 7-year-old brick of a laptop that can’t go an hour without juice, so I’ll go for the paper option). Go somewhere you don’t usually go, or better yet somewhere you’ve never been.

I want you to describe the scene around you, using as many of the five senses as you can. You can write this ‘in character’ by imagining one of your story characters is in the location, describing it as they’d see it, or you can do a straight-up description of the scene in your own words, without worrying about connecting it to a narrative. It’s really up to you.

I’ll refer to an example of my own work where I really did go to the location described to set the scene:

Daniel walked along the stony path before the temple. The doors of the main shrine were open as he passed before them, allowing a glimpse of a golden Buddha with colorful paper lanterns hung above his head. Daniel stepped on the low stone stair just outside the frame, a sharp sandalwood scent filling his lungs as he examined a bowl with sticks of incense set just before the Buddha. No different than a one–night stand? No. Of course I won’t do it. Shaking his head, he turned away from the Buddha, walking around the small pond set into the center of the stony ground before the temple. He allowed himself a last look at the peaceful place before descending the tree–lined path down the mountain.

That temple is based on Cheonbulsa, a temple that’s five minutes from my house. I had my character Daniel stand outside the temple and describe it, though I admit, there could have been more senses involved. I got smell and some sights in there, but I could go all out and get the clacking of the wooden bells, or the feel of smooth, worn wood under your feet after you remove your shoes to meditate in the temple.

For Thursday, I’ll go somewhere I don’t normally go and try a similar scene-setting piece. I encourage you to do the same!



Setting #2 – Results

Time to see some characters’ bedrooms!

On Tuesday we talked about your character’s bedroom. I’m going to give my own example, and I encourage you to check how much I let the reader know about my character, William Flynn.

We’re actually focusing on two skills at once here – developing setting descriptions AND character building! My goal is to try to tell a few things I think you need to know about William Flynn while describing his personal space as well.

Feel free to give me feedback – how could I give more detail about the room and Flynn’s personality without adding too many words? How could I add more sensory detail in the room description?

Look for the same criticism in your own work, and please post a sample as a reply or post a link to your own blog.

All right then, here’s what I have. I present William Flynn’s bedroom:

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Setting #2 – A Character’s Bedroom


What impression do you get about the person who uses this room? Photo by Ben Babcock,

Time for the second exercise on Settings!

These writing exercises are intended to help beginners who are stuck, but I try to make them useful for writers of all levels.


Last week we talked about your character’s hometown, so now let’s find out about his bedroom.

Exercise #2 – Describe a character using his or her bedroom.

What does Captain America’s bedroom look like? How about Harry Potter’s?

If you have a character who loves cats, what does her bedroom look like? How about someone who hates other people?

For this exercise, assume your character is the only regular occupant of the room – we want to shape the setting from this one character’s personality. If your character is not single at the start of your story, you could imagine what their bedroom would’ve been like before meeting their lover, or you could describe their personal study or office space.

You can use any character in this piece. You can create a character, or you could use a character from a book, TV show, or movie. This character will not appear in the piece. You are narrating as an observer who walks into their room – nobody is in this room right now.

Describe everything you see, hear, and smell. What is on the floor? On the bed? On the desk? Is there something unusual about the bed? Is everything neat and clean, or is it messy and dirty? Look for ways to give hints about the character’s job, hobbies, favorite animal, secret desires, or any other details you could place into the decor or arrangement of items in the room.


You can check your writing by looking at the sensory info and descriptions. How much detail can a reader learn about the character? Are there descriptive details about things one can see, hear, smell, and touch? Taste might be a tricky sense to work with in a bedroom, but by all means run with it if it’s justifiable! (A character who can’t live without junk food might have something tasty out on his desk, for example).

I’m trying this exercise myself with a character from my works. He’s from a sci-fi setting, so this will be an extra challenge for me to work in a few details from the future.

I’ll start with a couple sentences today, and the rest on Thursday. I hope you’ll share your character’s bedroom as well!

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Writing Exercises – Setting #1 Results


On Tuesday this week, I asked:

Where did your main character grow up?

I’ll go through some of those questions for William Flynn (the character I have planned for the events of my coming Far Flung novel). I avoid naming the hometown – I might put a name to it in the story, but for now I don’t think I need one.

I ramble on, a lot – this isn’t even half of the backstory I have for Flynn’s upbringing. This should happen – once you get started on an exercise like this, you should start making connections and filling in more detail than you strictly need.

But hey, who knows what little nugget of background story might become important later, so I say, write away!

I hope you will share a little bit of what you wrote for your character’s hometown.

Here are my own musings, just to give you an idea if you’re stuck:

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Writing Exercises for April – Setting


Time to start the next series of writing exercises! Let’s focus on settings.

These writing exercises are intended to help beginners who are stuck, but I try to make them useful for writers of all levels.

Last month focused on solidifying your character as a fully developed person with motivations and ambitions. This month, we’re looking at the setting for your story.

Let’s kick this off with a simple question:

Where did your main character grow up?

Choose any POV character from any story you are working on, or you can make a new character for this. I want you to tell me as much as you possibly can about the character’s hometown (or the place they grew up if it’s not a town or city).

Even if the character’s hometown doesn’t appear in the story, I still want you to do this – you’ll have an easier time selling the reader on your main character as your character relates their current situation to their earlier experiences.

Your Character’s Hometown:

  • What kind of place is it? City, town, hamlet, ranch, etc.?
  • What’s the weather usually like? Cold winters, hot summers, lots of rain, dry and dusty, etc.?
  • Are your character’s neighbors generally poor, rich, or middle-class? Are most people able to afford basics like food, shelter, and education?
  • Are most people well-educated or not? Is there a college or university nearby?
  • Do most people have the same job (like in a mining town), or are there a variety of jobs available? Is there a lot of unemployment?
  • Are there a variety of ethnicities represented in this area, or are most people from a one or two ethnic backgrounds?
  • Are there a variety of religions represented, or is there generally one religion everyone is expected to share? Or do most people just not talk about it?
  • What do people do for fun? Think about nightlife, bars, cafes, parks, and other entertainment available in this environment.
  • Does your character like their hometown? What do they like and hate about it?
  • Do other folks around your character generally share these likes and dislikes? (For example, maybe everybody thinks the local pubs serve piss for beer, or maybe everyone is super proud of the local college).
  • If a middle-class tourist from a well-developed city visited this hometown, what do you think they would notice first? Friendly people, dirty streets, lots of coffee shops, expensive cars parked at shoddy houses, or some other detail that would stand out immediately to the majority of visitors.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should help you get started.

Think of other details you can add that will tell me about your main character’s hometown and write about half a page.

I’ll share my own details about William Flynn, one of the main POV characters from Far Flung, on Thursday.

Keep on writing!


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Exercise 4 Results – Raising the Stakes


On Tuesday, I asked you to raise the stakes for your characters.

Now I want you to go back and assess how well you raised the stakes. Here are some criteria to look for in your answers to Tuesday’s exercise:

  • Does the main problem threaten the character’s life or the completion of a goal that is super-important to that character?

  • After you raise the stakes, is it now even more difficult for your character to achieve his or her goal?

  • Even if you did not write it out, do you have some sort of solution in the back of your mind?

  • Does the solution draw on the character’s established set of skills or something they learn or find during the story?

The first two points above are to help you generate a nice, suspenseful thrill for your readers, while the last two are to help you avoid painting yourself in a corner. Things should look grim for your character, but you have to have some solution in mind.

Special note – if your character does not survive:

In doing this exercise, you may use a character who does not make it to the end of the book. Okay, death happens and it sucks, but it can absolutely be the best thing for your story. Perhaps death is the tragic solution to your character’s problem – they were on a fool’s errand from the start, and only death would stop them. Perhaps their goal was something worth dying for, and their death solved the problem or enabled somebody else to solve it. Just avoid the trap of saying “Oh dear, the character is dead now, so their problem is gone.”

If the High Knight of Exampliphar was on a quest to clear his family name, he might die in his attempt, but you should avoid saying “Welp, his family name was never cleared. Sorry folks.” No, either his quest to clear the name is such a big or foolish errand that it becomes the end of him, or his death is exactly what clears the name. To just leave the family name hanging there, forever tainted, is far too much like real life (this is fiction, after all). There are authors who can pull off such realism and still have interesting stories, but I think it takes many years of experience – for beginners, I’d recommend having some sort of conclusion to each of the major threads you create (even if some of those threads span more than one book).

Okay, let me go back and re-assess my own Conflict 1 from Tuesday:

Character: William Flynn

Goal: He wants to be a respected news reporter.

I can look at two parts of this – respected, and news reporter. He gets flung across the universe, so there’s no news outlet he can work for. He still wants to be respected – as a rookie and a husband-to-be, it makes sense that earning respect is vital to him. He can also still desire to be a reporter – someone who chronicles the lives and struggles of others.

Problem: He is thrust into a unique role among his crew and has to figure out where his skills fit in.

His desire to be respected is threatened by a sudden change in role. His crew no longer needs a news reporter, but can his skills help in other ways? Perhaps he can still find ways to connect with the crew and their struggles?

How does this problem get worse? List a few possibilities:

  • He regularly interviews crew members as he asks for opinions on the captain’s responses to crises, but finds that many people don’t trust him.
    • I think his desire for respect is pretty clearly at stake here
  • He has several drone cameras that can fly outside the ship, and these prove useful in some situations. In a heated battle, however, he still finds himself on the sidelines.
    • He starts to find other ways he can help, but is he really doing enough?
  • He tries to aid as an interpreter when he accompanies the captain to negotiate with alien enemies, but ends up getting seriously injured in a firefight.
    • He’s not a fighter, but the ship and crew keep getting into danger. The captain won’t need him if he’s a liability – just what can he do?

Flynn’s desire for respect turns into a more basic need to aid the survival of the crew as the danger increases, but it’s always in the back of his mind. I can’t tell you exactly what role he ends up playing in the end, only that it is shaped by his encounters and actions in the story, and that it is driven by his base need for respect.

Your character should also have one or two base needs that drive their actions and shape their progression through the narrative.


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