Creative Writing Class Part I – Description and Setting

I’ve mentioned on Twitter that this semester is killing me, but I haven’t mentioned that I’m in my first creative writing class. Honestly, those three hours are my favorite part of the week. The professor is this eccentric, old, snarky, Bostonian guy with hair that always looks like he just got out of a wind tunnel. My classmates are introverted (of course), but I always walk away feeling like I’ve learned a lot.

He’s taking us through the most basic elements of creative writing. So far, we’ve covered setting and description, character, and dialogue, for each of which I’ll make a separate blog post. Today, I’m just going to cover setting and description. For this, he gave us five rules:

1. It doesn’t cost extra to write in color, so don’t be afraid to use it. My professor likened it to painting with words.

2. Although description is mainly visual, using other senses immerses the reader even more deeply.

3. Use metaphor. My professor gathers almost all figurative language under this umbrella, including similes, personification, etc.

4. Include small, specific details.

5. The external landscape should reflect the internal.

The short story he used as an example was Updike’s “A&P.” About 90% of the story is description. So, it’s a little unconventional, but Updike hits each of these points bang on. Go read it keeping all of these in mind.

He uses color to describe almost everything. He uses sound in addition to sight. There’s plenty of figurative language and small details sprinkled throughout. How it measures up to rule 5 is a little more subjective, but I think Updike does a pretty good job of setting the mood.

So, keep these in mind during your writing and revision and be on the lookout for it in your reading. See how other writers do it. With a little hard work and diligence, you’ll be a master of description and setting.