Posts Tagged ‘Setting’

This week I am sharing a poem that is very special to me – W.H. Auden’s ‘Carry Her Over The Water‘; partly because it’s Valentine’s Day and partly because it’s a poetic example of what I have been learning recently about style, setting and language.

I hope you enjoy it, and for those people who know why it is special, I hope it brings back some happy memories!

Carry Her Over the Water, by W.H. Auden

Carry her over the water,
And set her down under the tree,
Where the culvers white all days and all night,
And the winds from every quarter,
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

Put a gold ring on her finger,
And press her close to your heart,
While the fish in the lake snapshots take,
And the frog, that sanguine singer,
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

The streets shall flock to your marriage,
The houses turn round to look,
The tables and chairs say suitable prayers,
And the horses drawing your carriage
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

(I originally found this in a book of love poetry but it can also be found at allpoetry.com)

Happy Valentine’s Day reading,



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Last week I talked about using a visit to the hospital to explore setting, and I thought I would expand on that a little more this week, by focussing on senses.

I have already been reminded that setting is sensory, but what exactly that looks like depends on the scene and the story.  If your character has some sort of disability or hyperability this will also affect your approach.

Here are just a few examples from the hospital to help get you thinking for your own scenes:

Sight: lighting, colours, machinery, beds, bandages, drugs, people in uniforms, curtains, long corridors, seats with plastic covers

Sound: beeping of machines, pumping up of blood pressure monitors, tinny sound of music from other people’s earphones, buzzing of voices, echoing footsteps, scraping of chair legs, sirens

Smell: antiseptic, flowers, antibacterial gel, tea, plastic, floor polish

Feel: Overheated, heavy cotton curtains, slippery bed bars, hard mattresses, thick cardboard trays, tight bandages, the pulling of stitches

Taste: Dry, chemicals, stewed tea, sugary fruit sweets, gravy

Obviously all of these would be open to change depending on why your scene is at the hospital but it’s a place to start thinking about your scene in different ways.

I am going to call it quits there, as it’s about 2 minutes to midnight again, but I hope you find it useful.

Happy writing,





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This week has been another non-writing one, because sometime life is a juggling act and I can’t take on that extra ball yet.  It’s been a week in which sleep is too precious to miss and most of my time has been spent in various stages of packing.  Moving house is stressful, even if it isn’t your house!

I have foregone writing to cope with living, really…

However, after another visit to the hospital I have some more ideas to play with in setting, I will be returning to my coursework tomorrow lunchtime, and I have promised myself faithfully that tomorrow evening I will spend at least an hour writing.

I don’t know what yet, it might just be a stream of consciousness.  Or swear words.  Either way, I will be launching myself back into my writing work within 24 hours!

I also want to read a book to focus on language this week; I may not finish but I’ll give it a try.

I have a SMART plan, in business speak.  Now I just need to work smartly to get it all done.

Happy writing,



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Today I was visiting someone in one of our local hospitals.  As I said on Thursday, this week is not so much productive as reflective, and following this particular visit I thought it would be worth playing about by using a hospital visit as the basis for an exercise.

This is setting as described by a particular character – 20 year old Emma, a reluctant visitor to her grandfather’s sickbed.

What the place seems like to her: A waiting room, for a train with an unknown destination. Everything is in shades of grey-beige, bland and porridgelike.  Oversized wall art and brightly-coloured medical zones can’t hide the functional feel of the place, and the bird-like chatter from the nurses only seems to make the silence in between wards more oppressive.

The floors are polished, but only the edges retain the shine by the end of visiting hours: countless feet have stripped away the surface care.  There are scuffs – from beds, sticks, frames, shoes – gouged into the floor like graffiti on old stone.  It tells the story of the place, but no-one wants to read it.

There is a smell she can’t quite place, like disinfectant with an undertone of gravy from the restaurant.  It comes and goes in waves as the doors around her open and close.  As she nears the right ward and squirts her hands with anti-bacterial gel, she adds a chemical rose to the olfactory experience.

Walking through the ward is like walking past a badly-tuned radio: conversation in waves, bed by bed, with the white noise of beeping machines and blood pressure monitors always in her ears. She looks into each bay, vaguely ashamed of seeing people so vulnerable.  A sleeping stranger kicks his bare foot out of the covers, and she hastily looks away.

Finally, at the end of the marathon, is the finish line: Grandpa’s bed.  She is glad to see he’s sitting next to it: her heart slows down and she takes a careful breath.  This time, she can smell the aftershave she bought at Christmas and wrapped so carefully.

What do you think?  What am I missing, what could be made clearer, what could be enhanced?  This is a first draft and just reading it out loud there are some changes I’d like to make, but they aren’t all about setting…

I enjoyed this exercise, and I might try to create an alternative for next week if there’s limited writing time again – perhaps a father arriving at the delivery suite, or a young nursing student in her first placement. Inevitably there are multiple ways of approaching hospitals as settings because there are multiple reasons to be there; there’s a reason they are the basis of so many tv shows!

I would much prefer to be staying on track but at least this is a way of testing out what I’ve learnt about setting so far.

Until next time,

Happy writing,




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I finally finished my reading on setting at the poetry stage, and this week’s book is Penguin’s Poems for Life, selected by Laura Barber.

What I wanted to pick up was how feeling and setting interact but what I got was a little wider than that.

What I took was that description is an art.  In much the same way I am studying the importance of the right word, the power of poetry is linked to picking the right language.

For example, Seamus Heaney’s The Railway Children describes ‘shiny pouches of raindrops’ a phrase that describes their appearance, reminds the reader of the industrial nature of trains, gives a sense of something hidden within them (in this case, words) and makes them tiny gifts.  All these ideas are part of the setting of the poem: on the railway cutting.

Another example which caught my eye was Walt Whitman’s poem A Noiseless Patient Spider.  The sense that the web of a small spider could be a metaphor for life, a soul, creation was rather beautiful and unexpected.

This is a good reminder really – you can be both literal and figurative in poetry but sometimes you also need to be bold: follow a thought through its twists and turns and see if the journey is worth recording!

I had a fair number of poems I could share, different examples of poetry I love, but poetry is a particularly personal medium and my passion won’t necessarily match yours.

The best and most important point though is that truly effective writing, in whatever form, is a connection between the writer and the reader. The more you are able to bring them into your world, the more trust they will place in you and the more likely they are to lose themselves in your work.

I forget to think about poetry when concentrating on prose writing but that is very short-sighted because it means I miss opportunities to improve my work.

As a result of this reading exercise I have decided to make sure I read  at least one poem a week, analytically, to understand it and see what lessons I can learn for my own work.

Happy reading,



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Last week I told you I was reading to explore feeling as an element of setting.  I didn’t get to the poetry part of my reading but I did finish the novel: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.

If I am being completely honest, I stopped reading with purpose very early on, as I was enjoying reading the story so much, but I did pick up on a few elements.

For those who don’t know the story, it is a love story which starts in a cancer support group for kids.  Hazel is terminally ill but in limbo thanks to her drug regimen, and Augustus had bone cancer which cost him his leg.

The reason this is important is because feeling in the book was often about the impact of illness: Hazel can feel discomfort in a location based not only on the place but on her physical symptoms at that time.

We are led as readers to think about physical bodies in different ways throughout the book – the Literal Heart of Jesus, which is where the support group meets, the tickling in Hazel’s nose as she breathes in the oxygen from her tank, the crooked smile of Augustus, the elements people have lost due to treatment.  Importantly, though the characters have a high degree of charm and intelligence and a verbosity above that of most teenagers they are ‘normal’, if such a thing exists.  They are people who happen to have or have had cancer.  It is part of them but not them.

I don’t feel this book will help with the elements of setting I want to develop but I do think the thematic device of exploring the physicality of a scene is another way to approach the subject which is new to me.

It is also a great example of how to write characters who come to life for the reader.  I have never read a book with so many jokes about illness and its consequences, and the reason it works and doesn’t offend is because the characters are so genuine and you can truly imagine the slightly unnerving banter being accepted in this group.  It is very cleverly done because however risky the jokes, the characters maintain their likeability.  It’s a good example of how important the consistency of a character is for the effective telling of stories.

I may refer back to this book when I focus on characters.

Happy reading,





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I am continuing my work on setting for another week as I lost some time over the last few days and need to finish off some half-thought ideas.

One of these is about the emotional response a character will have to a place, and how this can be conveyed.  I did a couple of writing exercises on this recently but I wasn’t happy with the outcome and know I need to improve in this area.

We all have emotional responses to places, and our characters should be just the same.  The response could be completely logical – a sense of happiness where they met their partner, a feeling of dread from their old school hall imagining sitting their exams.  Perhaps a sense of desolation when walking through a cemetery towards a funeral.

But there are also illogical or unexplained feelings: feeling at home in an empty house they are viewing, or of loss as they stand in ancient ruins. Feeling frightened, nervous, or overwhelmed: allowing your character’s fight or flight reflex take over.

It is my job as a writer to build these feelings into a story in a way that is relevant, meaningful, and subtle: no-one wants the subtext slapping them in the face every few pages!

They have to be integral to the experience of that specific character in that specific place and are a reflection of the world as seen by your character.

In fact, you need to know the related backstory e.g. she feels nervous on busses because one of her earliest memories was of falling down the stairs of a double decker; he feels sad in the old shed because his grandfather used to take him fishing and it’s full of his grandfather’s old fishing rods which haven’t been used since his heart attack.

I know what I need to do and I am going to put my attention to it this week. People are strange, as The Doors told us.  By using setting and emotion more effectively I can explain why!

Happy writing,





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