Assisting Young Writers To Develop A Sense of Setting

A Sense of Place


The inexperienced writer often pays scant attention to this important element of their writing. As a consequence, their readers are provided with an incomplete vision of where the actual story is being played out. It is important to draw attention to the way experienced writers use words to create strong visual images to deliver a strong sense of setting.

The setting or place, creates the world in which the characters live and struggle. In this world, the plot unfolds. Something will happen!

Setting and Your SENSES
When you think of a setting, describing it using your senses provides the writer with so much fertile thought for building a backdrop.

•             Touch
•             Smell
•             Sight
•             Sound
•             Taste
The setting can be used in many ways in a piece of writing.
A brief description of a place is an excellent way to set the scene at the beginning of a piece of writing. It gives the reader time to feel at home before moving into the real action. Remember, a setting does NOT have to mean a large place! Place could be as small as a cupboard, a drawer, a branch of a tree.

Check these examples out:

‘During the protests for the homeless people, we were always rushing here and there so Mum got lots of parking tickets for parking in the wrong places. She’d just throw them onto the floor of the car and drive home. Whenever we got in and out of the car we’d step onto those parking tickets. After a while the tickets got trampled in with all the coffee cups and spilled coffee and napkins and wrappers and newspapers on the floor of the car. A little while longer and the tickets got mouldy and you’d smell them whenever you got in the car…’
Rebecca, Grade 4 writer

Jedda was utterly embarrassing and I had to share a bedroom with her. She made stables out of furniture on her side of the room and slept in them instead of her proper bed. She ate in there too, which I didn’t think was very hygienic. There was always a long line of ants parading across the bedroom floor after Jedda’s left over jam sandwiches and soggy cornflakes.’
Hating Alison Ashley, Robin Klein

'Amber lived in a city so big it took hours to drive through traffic snarled avenues from one side to the other. Skyscrapers loomed like granite mountains against a hazy blue sky –and the air made you sick. It was thick and soured with pollutants. Still, for all that man-made ugliness, Amber was content. For city people had parks, museums, theatres and libraries where she could be transported to other worlds.'
Amber on the Mountain, by Tony Johnston

In the following piece, I am  modelling my own writing about a setting that loomed large during my childhood. It is important that as teachers we model how we write about various aspects of writing:

The forest had a magical feel to it. It began directly where our fence line ended. - A magical place to run, hide or explore. We found snakes and lizards. We heard kookaburras. Bright orange fungi sprouted out of fallen logs. Some distance into the forest, there was a clearing that sloped away down the valley. At the base, spring water trickled out of the side of the hill. Just a little beyond that, a creek snaked slowly through the forest. In some places it flowed in a thin ribbon. You could leap over it easily.

The forest surrounding the creek created shadows and dappled light where the sunlight squeezed through the canopy of trees. Ancient timbers towered high into the heavens. It was a damp cool place most of the year with a distinctive odour of rotting leaves and bark. Moss covered logs, frogs and leeches were forest features. The creek was the natural home of native blackfish, rainbow trout and yabbies. On occasions wallabies visited this tranquil place, grazing on the grasses covering the hillside above the creek line. At various times, sightings of echidnas and wombats were greeted with a sense of wonder. Standing in this place delivered a sense of calm.

Have students talk about settings they are familiar with in their own life, or settings they clearly recall from books they have read. Encourage them to jot down ideas for settings in their notebooks. It might be useful to investigate examples of writing where a strong sense of setting comes through to the reader. Collect and display exemplary extracts of text where setting is prominently featured.

Consider This:
Rewrite an existing piece of writing that deals with a setting.
Place yourself in a different setting.
Write about a setting in which an animal or insect may live.

Consider This:
'Meaningful Place' Strategy
Think of a meaningful place.
It could be anything from the kitchen table in your home to your favorite place in the world.

List small moments related to that place, then choose one of those moments to focus your writing upon.


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