6 January 2014

WRITING - Settings - Micro and Macro

The settings that your character inhabits, help to bring life to that character because they can show where he or she lives, works, travels, in fact, they can convey just about anything you want your reader to know about the character including his foibles and idiosyncrasies.  For example, what does a character wearing an unpressed suit, sitting in a messy office tell you?  He’s a disorderly person who isn’t too concerned about his appearance?  Lazy perhaps.  Or has he just lost his one true love?  He could be grief stricken, or has gone broke and declared bankruptcy.  Obviously, there are loads of possibilities.  Only the writer knows which one he wants to go with to suit the story.

Settings that you revisit throughout your story.
When your character re-enters a setting that has already been described, don’t forget to remind the reader what it looks like in just a few words.  This can be done by the characters interaction in that setting.

Settings can be anywhere as well as micro or macro

In a car
Example 1
As the taxi wended its way through the streets, James sat back and stared out at the figures of pedestrians distorted by the rain- spattered windows, his thoughts turning to Simon Rhodes.

Example 2 
It was late on Saturday evening when Ben Carmichael climbed into a Silver Cab at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, on the last leg of his journey home from the Middle East.  Weary, and yet tense, he stretched his long lean body out and tried to quell his thoughts and shut out images of the horrors he had witnessed during the past four weeks.  

A pathway to the front door
Example 1

When the taxi pulled up in front of the home he and Emma shared in Crows Nest, he paid the driver, and slinging his haversack over his shoulder, walked through the garden to the front door.  In the darkness he did not notice the mail spilling out of the letterbox at the front gate or see a yellow tinge to the grass on either side of the path.
Example 2
Forty minutes later, he paid the driver and turned toward a narrow Victorian terrace house, its drawn curtains and peeling paint lending a feeling of abandonment to the place.  The wooden gate squeaked as he pushed it open and made his way through the small neglected garden to the front door. 

An attic room
The steps creaked under his weight and cobwebs stuck to his face as he climbed to the top and walked into the room, its air musty and close.  James moved to the dormer window, pushed it open and felt a gust of cold night air rush in and with it, the sound of the wind.  The temperature in the room dropped and particles of dust flew as the sheet that covered Louise's easel billowed and fell to the floor.  At the same time, the attic door slammed.  James turned back to the window and pulled it shut.  Silence returned.
He stood for a time, taking in the shadows that moved around him before his eyes came to rest on a painting, dwarfed by the easel on which it sat.  It was a small oil painting of a woman’s head and shoulders in a gilded frame. 

In a greenhouse
Instead, Fitzjohn made his way through the house and out into the garden and the greenhouse.  With the full moon casting shadows across the rows of orchids and feeling the warmth the sun had generated on the glass throughout the day, he turned on the CD player.  The first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, with its haunting whisper, filled the air while he made slow progress along the rows.  He tended to each plant as he went, the body of the man in the lane that morning, and the events that followed during the day, slipping from his mind.


  1. Settings in a story do lend a lot to the characters that inhabit them and the ones you describe in detail do make the reader feel like he's there also feeling everything the character is. Great advice Jill!.

    1. Thanks, Anna. I guess these days we don't get as much description about settings as we did in times gone by, but even just a few words helps to set the reader's imagination going.

  2. Great setting examples! I always like to know where my characters are in the story. I like the idea of using even a few words to help the reader picture where the character or characters are and then they can focus on the action.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. I agree, Jess. As readers, we know that once our imaginations kick it's like watching a movie - or better perhaps.