Location, setting or place

I was thinking about writing about location, setting and place with my writing group yesterday I set them a task to write about… location, setting or place with a few pictures as inspiration or stimulus if needed.

This is what I asked them to do:

For next time… Some suggestions…

  • Write a descriptive piece about a real or remembered or imaginary place
  • Use any of the pictures as stimulus – or not!
  • When you’ve finished your piece, maybe share some thoughts on what you have written – such as those mentioned on the sheet

I hope they will bring their pieces to share next time, in the meantime yesterday, while they shared what they had written over the last month, I read something I’d written, about location, setting place!

This is from one of my novel’s but slightly rewritten to take out things which wouldn’t be understood as an extract without a lot of explanation! I have also changed the names of the characters here:

 Ben takes his friend Alyse to visit the house he shared with his ex-wife, Sasha.

It was a large house and beautiful. The hall was spacious, a window on the mezzanine casting light even on this miserable day. Ben was in the lounge, green carpet and one green wall contrasting with three pink walls. Everything was co-ordinated, even to the pink and green leather suites, even to the tiles surrounding the large replica fireplace. All the fittings, lamps, curtain rails, sconces, candle sticks were old gold. An ornate mirror hung above the fireplace and there was not a single picture on any walls. It was like a show home and Ben’s description of it as a hotel was exactly right. It was perfect, expensive, but impersonal, characterless. Even the large doll clowns, lounging here and there added nothing.

Ben led her through into a huge sun room filled with cane furniture and massive house plants. A door opened into a dining room; on the long glass table was a vase of artificial flowers; the chairs were a grey metal chairs, and along the walls were metal and glass units. The décor here was purple and lime. There was another mirror but again, no pictures.

Stepping into the kitchen was like arriving in Morocco, fierce Mediterranean colours, terra cotta, blue and green wavy lines. It was overwhelming. All the cupboards were faced in distressed wooden doors; a farmhouse style table stood in the centre and to one side a butcher’s block. At last a couple of books, TV bakers and the Helmsleys.

He looked into a final room, a family or play room then led her back into the hall and upstairs. He went into what had been his and Sasha’s room, decorated in purple and gold. The white carpet was thick and deep, the voile that shimmered at the windows down to the floor was shot with gold thread, the mountain of soft toys on the four-poster bed matched the decor, all in shades of purple or gold. At last there were pictures, twee paintings of sad-eyed clowns.

Ben slid aside the doors of a walk-in wardrobe; another door revealed drawers and he pulled out a couple and left them open. As Alyse watched from the doorway she felt it was unlike him; in her home he’d always put everything away – when he cooked he washed and cleaned and tidied.

Ben went into another room, opening wardrobes, checking drawers and then into a small room with a single bed; it was carefully decorated but not as ostentatiously perfect as the others. The wardrobe was full of his clothes, suits, jackets and shirts; rows of shoes were on racks at the bottom. He took nothing but went to the chest of drawers. He pulled out each drawer, full of folded underwear, t-shirts, sweaters. Alyse had thought he wanted to collect some belongings but he took nothing, touched nothing.

They stood on the landing; he stared at her but it was as if he was thinking of something or someone else.

There were three more rooms, a family bathroom, a study and a nursery… The nursery was beautifully decorated in lilac and eau de nil. Alyse stepped looked round; a cot, a mobile hanging above it, a rocking horse, shelves stacked with white garments, and more soft toys. Suddenly she felt sorry for Sasha. Sasha had fallen in love with Ben and against the odds had managed to ensnare him into marriage. She’d had such plans, such domestic ambition, and then she was betrayed. There was something disturbing in this room, something weird and not right. This would be Sasha’s child sleeping here, not Ben’s.

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here’s a link to my ebooks and paperbacks… the story this extract came from is Loving Judah:


Thinking about location…

This afternoon I have my writing group; we have been meeting for about three years now and we’ve covered lots of different areas of writing. I’m not sure if the way I lead the class is the best way – I guess having been a teacher, I go into a sort of teacher mode! I suppose what I want people to do is to think about their writing, to try and challenge themselves to write in different ways or extend themselves.

Since September we have looked at different ways of writing, last time we were looking at the narrator… this time we’re…

Thinking about location…

  • what is the actual location – how do you make it clear where this is?
  • when does the story happen – this will affect the details of your description (e.g. gaslights not electric, type of transport in the streets, ships in a harbour etc.)
  • Does the scene suggest its history? Old buildings, winding roads, strange field shapes, names reflecting former times Mill Lane, Field View, Castleton, Broadbridge?
  • what is the weather or climate like – this will affect the colours, what people are wearing, the type of buildings and houses. If the location is indoors the weather/climate will affect whether fires are lit, central heating/air conditioning is on, windows open, lights on or off
  • What time of day/year/season is it – this will affect light, colour,
  • what is the landscape like?Is there a geographical aspect e.g. hills, mountains, rivers, etc. – this affects urban areas too
  • what are the social or community conditions (expensive neighbourhood, bleak rural landscape, urban environment)
  • are there people in the scene whose actions either affect it, or are affected by it (someone digging up the road, or someone sheltering from the rain under an overhanging cliff) Do the type of people or what they are wearing/doing/how they’re behaving add to the description of the location (people wearing beach clothes, people in a crowded part of town, people affected by the noise in a working quarry)
  • does the scene suggest who lives there – churches or synagogues, temples or mosques, Polish shops or Indian shops, cottages or farms, retirement bungalows or apartment buildings?


Thinking about your writing…

  • Is there progression… do you take your reader sequentially from one place to the next as if following a line of vision, or walking along a route, or are the details randomly described?
  • Are we seeing the scene through characters/people whose thoughts and ideas would ‘colour’ what is seen (it may be memories of a place as well as a character being in a place)
  • Is the scene described by a specific person or from that person’s point of view? If so is s/he a stranger or a local, do they feel at ease or anxious, do they like or hate the place, find it deadly dull of interesting? How are these thoughts/ideas/feelings woven into the description?
  • Have you used different senses in what you have written? As well as visual is there what can be heard, smelled, sensed, felt
  • Remember – show don’t tell e.g. “Their throats were full of the dust and sand of the desert.” Rather than “The desert was very dusty and sandy.”

© Lois Elsden