Prompts for Blocked Writers

Setting Is More Than a Location on the Map

Every writer has at one time or another done a character chart for a main character—physical description; occupation; etc. Doing a detailed SETTING chart may lead to some surprising ‘aha’ moments as you develop your novel.

Setting is so rich in possibility: It is, of course, country, state or region, town/city/village, but it is so much more. It is the time (year/month/time of day, the season, the weather, the smells and sounds. It is the furnishings (exterior and interior) of the space. It is the overall but undefinable mood all of that layers onto the scene. One of the best exercises I was ever given as a writer was to start with a broad view of my setting and slowly pare it down to the details.

  • Start with the larger place— New York City, for example.

  • But where in NYC? There are so many neighborhoods and areas.

  • Okay, how about Hell’s Kitchen west of Broadway?

  • Does your protagonist live there?

  • Describe the apartment building—exterior, neigboring buildings, block it’s on, etc.).

  • Describe the path from the entry of the building to the apartment. Draw a map—label adjoining apartments and their occupants. Note sounds like creaky stairs or smells like cooking odors.

  • Describe the apartment—draw a floor plan; place the furnishings; what are the quirks (three deadbolts on the door? bathtub in the main room? fire escape outside window?)

You get the idea. Try this with your setting and see if it doesn’t lead to scenes that are richer for the greater detail.