Setting and Description 101

We start off with a general assignment. Look around you, wherever you are, and list everything you notice in your immediate environment. Leave out no object or person present, and simply put it all into a bulleted or numbered list. Take about ten minutes, and give details; if something is blue, for example, say so in your list.

Now, go away from whatever room or area you’re in, and come back after five minutes. How many of the things you listed come to your immediate attention? (Check them off.) How many things ended up being trivial and not necessary to the scene? (Put an X next to them.) Are there any new objects, which you may have overlooked before, that do catch your immediate attention upon reentry? If so, list and underline them.

Now that you’ve done this, spend five minutes describing the room. This should be approximately one paragraph, though length will vary depending on your setting. In your description, you should include everything that is checked or underlined on your list. Include no more than one of the items with an X; this is what we call a peculiarity. Such things may matter if, say, in a story, you have a character walk into a room and notice something that all the other characters seem to miss... like the corner of a piece of paper tucked under a coat lying on a table, for example.

In a typical setting, you do not have to describe absolutely everything in the place; you merely have to list what is important to the general surroundings, for the purpose of orienting the reader, and any peculiarities that, for some plot-related reason, might stand out. We’ll go more into this in later exercises.