Story Bite 5: On Detail in Settings

As explored in a past story bite, setting is a crucial part of any story. It’s the world in which your characters live, and can be a character itself. Any world is made of a variety of features, from landscape and weather to buildings and roads. For this story bite, I want to look closely at ways that you can build a setting through details.

As always, here’s a picture to start with:

Abbotsford, seen from the garden. Photo: Diane Magras

This is Abbotsford in Melrose, Scotland, the home of the great 19th century author Sir Walter Scott. Largely responsible for the creation of the historical novel, Sir Walter Scott built this home to be his own personal castle.

A setting like Abbotsford offers many fascinating details, but let’s have your story begin in this picture, at the top of the garden looking down at the house. And for this story bite, let’s focus on exactly what you see. We’re working on setting description and, specifically, details.

What do you see?

That can be a hard question to answer, so let’s delve deeper:

When you look at this picture, what’s the first thing you notice?

What can you say about that thing?

What color is it?

What shape? What texture?

What other things do you see, and what colors, shapes, and textures can you describe?

What’s the overall feel you get from this picture? Does it make you comfortable? Happy? Sad?

How do those colors, textures, and objects lead you to feel that way?

When you’re writing a setting, details like this help the writer evoke emotions in the reader, which is a great way to prepare a scene for action. Details can have special meanings too: repeating throughout a work, or as something a character remembers later on.

Give this description a try. Your story bite assignment is to write what you see in that picture, sharing as many details as you can imagine. Paint the scene with words. Make this a paragraph—or write more, if you feel inspired to.

I’ve written many scenes of places I’ve never been, relying on photographs or paintings to give me a sense of the setting. If I write a scene at Abbotsford in a future book, I’ll certainly look at this and other photographs to spark my imagination. This is taste of what it’s like to write a description based on something you’ve never actually seen. (And if you have seen Abbotsford, then by all means use what you remember!)



If you’d like to share your story bite with me, please submit it through your teacher or with your school email address or home email address and include: your first name, grade, school’s name (or “homeschooled”), town, and state.

Teachers: if your make story bites part of a lesson, please let me know how it went. And share them! I’d love to see your students’ work.

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