A.T. Greenblatt is a mechanical engineer by day and a writer by night. She lives in Philadelphia where she’s known to frequently subject her friends to various cooking and home brewing experiments.
She is a graduate of Viable Paradise XVI and Clarion West 2017. Her work has won a Nebula Award, has been in multiple Year’s Best anthologies, and has appeared in Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld, as well as other fine publications. You can find her online at http://atgreenblatt.com and on Twitter at @AtGreenblatt
Read A Book, Support An Indie
This year’s StoryADay May official bookseller is Reads & Company, a privately-owned indie bookseller in Pennsylvania. Any purchase from the site this month supports Reads & Co.
Leave a comment and let us know how you used the prompt, and how you’re celebrating!
Choose a setting for your story based on a real place that you know intimately. You can change details, of course, but this just makes it easier to summon up images in your mind. You can change it to be it futuristic, or historical, or on another planet, but base your buildings on building as you know, base the weather on whether you understand. Use your experiences to make this story shine.
Sometimes we worry too much about plot and forget the story is NOT just about the things that are happening. A reader wants to be sucked into the story. They want to be able to see and feel everything the characters are seeing and feeling. Having a strong setting, a strong sense of where they are in space and time, can really help with this.
In a short story we don’t have a lot of space. It’s important for every element of the story to serve multiple functions. Setting can provide atmosphere. It can echo or heightened emotions, and it can tell us a lot about the time, place, characters, and mood of your story.
Think about your grandmother’s house and how it was decorated and furnished. Didn’t that tell you a lot about who you were going to find living in that house? Think about the houses in Architecture Digest magazine. Who would you expect to find living in one of those houses?
Atmosphere, weather, climate, all of these things can enhance or echo your character’s situation and emotion. Storms speak of peril. Humidity makes things feel oppressive. If the trees are bare we know it’s winter.
Simple details like whether or not there are weeds growing up through the paving can tell is a lot about the neighborhood in which your character finds themselves.
Don’t worry about creating a complicated or original plot in this story. The exercise here is to practice using setting to enhance the simple story that you’re telling. Choose a character, give them a simple mission, and build the reader’s experience into a feast.
Use all five senses. “Cinematic writing” can be good, but it means you’re only using your eyes. Use sounds to hear things, use the feel of things, the smell of things, the taste of things — even if the person isn’t eating, the tang of something-in-the-air can tell us whether we are near the sea, or near a decomposing body, or whatever it is that your story needs. Using all five senses will make your reader unable to separate themselves from the story, which is what you want.
Leave a comment and share what kind of setting you used. How’s the challenge going? Got any tips for the rest of us? Share them now!
First: a little Day 5 pep talk. If you’re finding it hard to write every day; if you’ve missed a day; if you’ve just found us and are wondering if it’s too late to join; if you’ve been here since April and and wondering if it’s time to quit…To all of you I say “don’t worry, just keep turning up. From today until May 31, just sit down, think up interesting characters, give them annoying problems, and write as much as you can. If you miss a day (I mostly don’t write on Sundays, so I’m not going to be doing 31 stories this May), just accept it and move forward. Deal? OK, on with the writing prompt!
Setting can be as potent as an extra character in your story. It can affect every aspect of the story from the way people talk and dress, to the imagery and metaphors that you choose.
Write A Story With A Strong Sense of Place
“Setting” can be a place, a time or a culture.
Don’t tell us about the setting. Weave details into the story to strengthen the tone, mood, or the actions of the characters.
For example, if your setting is in a pre-industrial culture, your landscape might contain things like hitching posts for horses, small vegetable gardens at every home, rutted cart tracks, coppices of trees, wells etc. Mention them by having your characters use them while they’re talking/thinking about other things.
Think about how your setting affects your choice of words: if your setting is bucolic, perhaps your language will be more flowery than if you were telling a story set in a sterile, scientific setting.
Think about how setting can affect the mental state of characters. Do they get more jittery or more energized if it’s loud? How about if it’s dark? Quiet? Cluttered? Enclosed? Wide open?
Today you’re going to rely on memory to conjure up a vivid setting for your story.
Tell a story set at a country fair
Use all your senses to place us at the fair, right at the start of the story
Paint a picture and include a character walking through that setting, his/her mind set on doing something (winning a prize perhaps? Meeting a particular someone in a particular place?).
Hint that there might be more to their desire than can be simply explained (he wants to be a big shot at the coconut shy; she wants to meet a boy). No, there is a deeper reason they want to do the thing they’re pursuing as we, the reader join them.
After you have squarely painted the fair scene for us, transition away from providing many details of the fair, and instead concentrate more on character.
Don’t forget to bring in something from your setting, near the end, to bring the reader full circle.
Yes, it sounds formulaic, but remember:
It’s only an exercise and
I’ll award a big fluffy panda to anyone who ends up writing something exactly like that of another StoryADay writer, by accident just because you’re using a formula!
This week I’m giving you some more traditional prompts, where one element of your story is dictated by me. (Oh, the power!)
Write A Story Set At A Wedding
The conflict in this story can be micro-scale (a guest reflecting on a deeply personal challenge, brought into the light by this landmark occasion) or dramatic (a headline-worthy bust-up, with generations of family tension erupting in a hot, molten mess).
Weddings are often the scene of comic stories because of the solemnity inherent in the occasion. But I was at a super-fun wedding recently. A story set at that wedding would lend itself to a solemn moment as an abrupt change of pace.
You can say a lot about your characters without beating the reader over the head with it, by describing which traditions your wedding principals and guests choose to honor (or flout). You can get rich cultural mileage out of this setting.
You can choose another culturally significant/religious event to write about if weddings really aren’t doing it for you.
It’s Cinquo De Mayo and everyone loves a party! Except when they don’t.
Parties are a great setting for stories because they bring together people who have no business being in the same room; they put stress on relationships; they often involve booze and a consequent loosening of inhibitions…in other words, all the elements you need for a climactic moment in someone’s life.
Write A Story Set At A Party, Shindig, Fiesta or Gathering
A lot of short short stories focus on character and twists and surprise, because it’s a great form for exactly those things.
But I don’t want your descriptive muscles to get all flabby.
Why not write a story with a strong sense of place? At some point in the story, imagine you are a tour guide, pointing out the landmarks and notable features of your setting to me, your eager audience.
Be a tour guide to your story’s setting, for the reader
On this day in 1973, the US launched the orbital space station Skylab.
Write A Story With Space/Science Fiction Elements
Even if you’re not a big fan of science fiction, this doesn’t have to be a difficult assignment. Sci-Fi isn’t all about techno-babble or rockets.
Two of my favourite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation are:
1, Captain Picard is left on a planet, by a malevolent force, with the captain of a ship from a culture that communicates so strangely not even Star Trek’s wonderful translators can handle it. They are in peril and must work together. Gradually Picard figures out that the alien captain’s language is based on metaphors, but he doesn’t share the same culture so how can he find metaphors with which to communicate? It’s basically a stranded-on-an-island, must-work-together-to-escape-peril story, all about linguistics. In space.
2, Someone from Starfleet wants to take the sentient andriod Data back to HQ and take him apart to figure out how he works, for the greater good of the service (a fleet of Datas? We’d be unstoppable, Great!). Picard demands a tribunal at which he attempts to prove that Data is an individual not merely a piece of equipment. A wrinkle? Picard’s second in command and Data’s buddy, Riker, must act as prosector, and try to prove that his friend is merely a machine. This one is called “Measure of a Man” and is a long, fascinating philosophical argument about what it means to be human. Set on a spaceship.
Another example: the movie Moon, which came out last year. It is a psychological thriller set on the moon. It uses a sci-fi setting to create an isolation you couldn’t realistically create in a story set on our planet these days. And it uses some sci-fi tricks to mess with the hero’s mind and throw obstacles in his path, and none of it is extraneous.
What kind of story could you write, that uses as space or futuristic setting? A mystery? A romance? A morality play?