Today’s prompt is a real treat: a writing exercise from author Gregory Frost. (Side note: his classes are the kind that writers only tell their best friends about … and then only after their own application has been accepted!)
Here he shares a prompt that seems to be about setting but turns out to be all about character. Flex those writing muscles, people!
Character through Setting
There’s a tale that John O’Hara once wrote a story in which all he did was describe the contents of a room, and by the end you knew that the occupant had committed suicide. No person appears in the story. It’s all done by inference.
For this exercise, select a character. Think about who they are and what you think you know. Then pick a setting. It can be a room, a landscape, the interior of a car…
Now describe the setting in in very specific detail: Use as many senses as you can, as are appropriate. The person you are telling us about is not present in this setting, but by the time you’re done, we should know the important aspects of him or her.
One more thing…
O’Hara also said that getting the details of a character exactly right is critical—especially the detail that is wrong.
So for this setting, add one element that does not belong there (one of these things is not like the other), and see what sort of story that wrong element suggests.
About Gregory Frost
Gregory Frost is a fantasist, author of adult and young adult fiction (SHADOWBRIDGE, LORD TOPHET, FITCHER’S BRIDES, TAIN, etc.). He has been a finalist for the World Fantasy, Nebula, Hugo, Theodore Sturgeon, and James Tiptree Jr. Awards among others. He is Director of the Fiction Workshop at Swarthmore College.