10 Writing Prompts to Help You Develop Your Setting

Two weeks ago I did this for characters, and I meant to do more, but things happened and it slipped my mind.  (One of those things was 10K words written on a new project…so I’m inclined to forgive myself!)

Again, this isn’t a comprehensive “everything about your settings” master list, just fun exercises to stretch your brain.  Also, “setting” can refer to a specific location (your character’s home or work or wherever you need a scene set) or, if it’s more appropriate to your state of brainstorming, you can apply some of these as world-building prompts to describe your overall style.

  1. Pick a single adjective to describe your setting (e.g., bleak, fancy, cozy) and make a list of physical details that could evoke that word.  (Bleak: gray-painted walls, cold tile floors, bare fluorescent light bulbs, etc.)
  2. What sorts of things happen in this setting when your characters aren’t there?  Write a short scene involving that and let it inspire more details to include in your descriptions.
  3. Do you intend your setting to represent an ideal or an emotion?  Does the place itself have a distinct personality?  Try using emotion words in your description. (The tree happily shaded the entire backyard like a grandfather reaching his arms out to hug all of his grandkids at once.)
  4. What’s the weather like there, and how will it affect the story you’re telling?  In most places, endless unchanging weather isn’t believable, so what does your setting look like when it’s raining, storming, snowing, and so on?  Match the weather to the mood of a scene to keep it in the background, or highlight it by having it contrast strongly (e.g., the classic “sunshine at a funeral”, or have your meet-cute happen in the middle of a blizzard!)
  5. How old is your setting?  If it’s an older building, is it well-maintained or riddled with minor flaws?  If it’s newer, does it stand out from the buildings around it? How?
  6. Aside from the weather, does the setting itself need to change over the course of the story?  Will some sort of disaster occur and damage it?  Will it be renovated?  Will an addition be built?
  7. Make a list of the objects that need to be inside a room to make it functional for its intended purpose (a bedroom needs a bed, at least), then make another list of objects that could be there to give it more personality and reflect its owner.  Pick the ones that resonate together the best, and you’ve got yourself a room.
  8. If you have a setting strongly tied to one character (like their home or office) how do your other characters feel about it?  Are they comfortable there?  What makes them feel welcome, or what puts them off?
  9. If you have a setting based on a real place, have you been there?  If you can go, take a notebook and write down everything you see and hear and smell and feel.  (And taste, too, if that’s appropriate.  Don’t lick a frozen flag pole.)  If you can’t get to the actual place you’re describing, are there any reasonable alternatives nearby?
  10. And finally, for the super-spatial, design your own buildings.  I haven’t used it myself yet, though I may try to retroactively build the house from my novel–which does have a very clear layout in my head–and include it as an extra.  (My beta readers are giving me fantastic feedback this time around, not just on the novel itself, but on things they’d like to see in the marketing.  I adore these people, I truly do.)

Have fun storming the castle!

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