Saturday, February 16, 2013

Some Ideas on Setting and Pictures From Vacation...

 Setting has always baffled me in writing. Not that I don't think it's useful, or appreciate a good setting in a book. But I've never been great at conjuring up a good image of place in the reader's mind. Perhaps this is because I think in pictures, so I'm not always great in describing static pictures, more how they change.

But this last week, I went on vacation, and reread through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K Rowling. I was struck by how great Rowling's setting descriptions are. She gives one sentence to describe the overall scene, if it was a large room, or a small, wooden hut. And then afterward, she chooses a couple of items in the room that are significant and describes or lists them. For example, when describing Hagrid's hut, she mentions its placement in relation to the castle, something in the story that the reader is already familiar with. She also mentions the crossbow and the pair of galoshes outside.  These objects call to mind Hagrid's job as gamekeeper and his personality as a rough and tumble sort of character. When Harry knocks on the door, there is a barking and scuffling from inside, adding an auditory description to the setting. And there in a few short sentences, we have a picture in our minds of Hagrid's hut.

So, I thought it might be worth trying out this method with a couple of pictures. I.e. One big sentence to describe the overall picture, another sentence or two to describe a few key objects that define the setting, and then some kind of auditory or sensory clue to the scene.

I'm not saying this is a formula for setting, but I think it would be a good exercise to try out and flex your own setting descriptions skills. So in that light, I'm posting a few pictures from vacation last week. Pull up a piece of paper or a word document, and try describing the pictures in the method I've just mentioned and see if you notice anything. If you're curious where the pictures were taken, scroll to the end and I'll reveal their whereabouts. Happy writing!

Photo 1

Photo 2
Photo 3
Photo 4
Photo 5
Photo 1: A Lava Lake inside Halema'uma'u Crater at Dusk
Photo 2: A Rainbow Over a Lava Field
Photo 3: Sunset at Waikiki Beach
Photo 4: Lava overtaking the road at National Volcano Park on the Big Island, Hawaii
Photo 5: Lava Field at National Volcano Park (Very Fun to Hike Over)


  1. I love the big island, and I went on one of those hikes across crater road to the actual lava (it was four miles out when I took the hike, so I don't know how long yours was). We also had fun with the different kinds of caves that the lava tubes make compared to limestone caves. Pretty awesome stuff.

  2. J.K Rowling is amazing at setting, isn't she? And I really want to go to those places in your pics! :)

  3. How beautiful! If I could do a setting like Steinbeck, I'd be a master. Love his settings.