Tag Archives: Play

Playing with Setting

Writing setting is all about creating a location and making it as real to the reader as possible. Some authors spend a great deal of their exposition on setting, while still others choose to infuse it more gradually throughout their work. No matter what the method, the act of building setting is essential, since it helps to create the very atmosphere and tone that will embrace the readers approaching your work.

This week I flew to visit some of my family. Most of us have been on an airplane at least once in our lives, making it easy to identify several common features: cramped seats, narrow aisles, tiny bathrooms, packaged peanuts or pretzels, miniature drinks, grouchy people, rickety tray tables, and colorful emergency pamphlets. As I sit on the plane, I always try to find some enjoyment in elaborating on these features. I think of it as playing with my setting.

I’ll start with a simple statement: It is 8:40, and I am on an airplane. Then I’ll begin to add some key details.

I am on an 8:40 p.m. flight, wedged uncomfortably into my uneven seat due to the broken spring beneath my left thigh. The plane reeks of stale pretzels and a potential sanitary issue in the nose-end bathroom.

As the flight attendants begin their speech about the procedure should we experience a sudden change in cabin pressure, I add in a few more details.

The air that spews from the vents above is doing nothing but suffocating me with a steady stream of hot air, making it more difficult to breathe against the surrounding stench.

The man next to me sneezes without covering his mouth, and after stealing a quick glance in his direction, I add more to my mental image.

The hum of the jet steadily increases, but not as rapidly as the sound of breathing that pours from the stuffy nose of the man to my right. He squirms in his seat, sneezing repeatedly until I’m forced to peer away. At the same moment, the little girl to my left tugs off her sweater, her sleeve nearly smacking me in the jaw.

Suddenly I realize that the dismal light above is not going to provide much to read by, leaving me little to do but continue my imagined ride. I do, after all, write fiction. Why not make this airplane scene go in a slightly more fantastical direction?

The girl looks up to me, her eyes glowing a light shade of green. She grins, her teeth sharp against her rose-red tongue and her lips pursing together when the man to my right sneezes again. She peers past my shoulder, her eyes slitting narrowly at him as the plane hits some turbulence. It bounces us violently in our seats in a manner that somehow does not seem to affect her.

The man sneezes. The girl licks her lips. Across the aisle, another man stands from his seat, so I add this in too.

Despite the captain’s direction for us to remain in our seats, a lanky man across the aisle stands from his chair, beginning to chat up the flight attendant before he heads toward the nose-end bathroom in a near run.


A thud sounds from the left of the airplane, as if something hit the plane and bounced repeatedly along its side. A shadow passes over us, the darkness outside creeping in, mimicking the growing smile from the girl in seat 7A. The chill looming over our row makes the sneezer in seat C and me in seat B start to shiver convulsively….

The joy of setting is that it can effectively set the tone for the work to-be. I have  no idea what to do with my airplane vision so far, but when I make a few tweaks and tie all the setting details together (as well as a little characterization and some information to build a scene), here’s what I have:

I buckle my seat belt on the 8:40 p.m. flight, my body pitched at an uncomfortable angle thanks to the broken spring beneath my left thigh. The plane reeks of stale pretzels and a potential sanitary issue in the nose-end bathroom, and the steady stream of hot air from the vent above makes it even more difficult to breathe against the stench. While the hum of the jet steadily increases, so does the ragged breathing that pours from the stuffy-nosed man next to me. He squirms, rocking our seats as he sneezes repeatedly, forcing me to peer away. As I turn, the little girl to my left tugs off her sweater and nearly smacks me in the jaw with her sleeve. She mutters, “Sorry,” before looking up at me, her light green eyes glowing. When she grins, her teeth press sharply against her rose-red tongue. The man to my right sneezes again and the little girl purses her lips together. She peers past my shoulder at him as the plane hits some turbulence and bounces us violently in our seats. She is not affected, her eyes slitting narrowly when the captain directs us to remain in our seats and a lanky man across the aisle stands from his chair. He chats up the flight attendant before running toward the nose-end bathroom at full speed.

A repeated thud sounds from the left of the airplane, as if something hit the plane and bounced along its length until it flew off into the nothingness behind us. Immediately a shadow passes over, the darkness outside creeping in, mimicking the growing smile from the girl in seat 7A. The sneezer in seat C and I start to shiver convulsively…

Though it is most certainly not a finalized scene, the setting aspects already have me thinking of where I could go from here. Playing with setting like this is a good practice to hone in useful details for writing, even if this particular piece never comes to life in a real story. The feel of the plane, and the random acts of the people around me on the plane, are all items that could be stashed in a mental rolodex of story components.

As I’m thinking about this, the lights above the walkway randomly start flickering, causing a gasp from some of the other passengers. I smile, then close my eyes to take a nap before we land…the sound of 7C’s stuffy breathing in my ear.

Happy Friday the 13th, everyone!

The Imaginations of Children

This past weekend I saw my niece—also known as the Most Adorable Niecey on the Planet—and she spent a good amount of time being her charming, four-year-old self. Since my sister recently moved a few hours away, I often find myself missing the little munchkin for quite a while after I see her.

Today I happened to remember some of the exuberance my Niecey shared as she showed me her dolls, shoes, hair, and jewelry. She, like most children, has a vivid imagination, as well as a high-pitched zeal with which she loves to share her young, open-minded ideas. On any given day I can probably recount ten favorite memories, but today I thought I’d share just one.

About two months ago, the Most Adorable Niecey stayed overnight, and in the morning she tapped me gently on the shoulder. “Auntie Eva,” she whispered, “it’s time to wake up.” Groggy and somewhat delirious, I managed to wake—albeit slowly—as she explained that it was time to play Princess.

“Princess!” I said, rubbing my eyes. “How do we play that?”

“Well, I’m the Pink Princess,” she said, waving her hands in the air. “I have a pink dress, a pink crown, and a pink wand. I also have pink jewelry!” she squealed proudly, pointing at her bare (but remember, not really bare) fingers and wrist. “It’s time for you to get up, so you can be the Purple Princess.”

“Oh my!” I said. I propped myself up on the pillows. “How do I do that?”

“First, we have to put on your purple dress. Sit up.” I did, and she proceeded to simulate sliding the dress over my head. “Now for your purple crown and wand.” She placed the crown on my head and the wand in my hand, smiling proudly as she adjusted the way I held it. “You have to hold it this way for spells,” she whispered.

“Oh thank you,” I said. “What’s next?”

“Well of course you need purple jewelry. Hold out your other hand.” She slid the imaginary rings onto my finger and clasped a bracelet around my wrist. “I’ll give you your shoes when you get out of bed. Now come down here,” she said, wriggling to the floor and pointing at a two-by-two area on the carpet. “This is my pink castle. And over there is your purple castle. Hurry! You have to get there fast, the dragon is coming!”

“Ick!” I shrieked, jumping out of bed. I climbed over to the area she designated as my purple castle, and then she tossed over my purple shoes. (Yes, she actually simulated tossing over a pair of shoes.) “Do I have to stay here?” I asked.

“You can come over here,” she said, lifting a warning finger. “But you have to move very quickly, and you’re only safe if you wear the purple shoes. Put them on, fast, and come to the pink castle!”

Naturally, I did, and then scooted over to her castle. Clearly, it was the place to be!

We played for a while like this as she told me about all the creatures in the land (the dragon, some magical cats, an enchanted forest, even more glittering purple and pink jewelry!), and eventually my need for coffee won out. “Sweetheart,” I said, “I’m just so tired, I fear the dragon will catch me because I’m moving too slowly. I really need coffee.”

“Silly Auntie Eva, I can make you coffee here in the pink castle!” she laughed, whirling her hands around until she produced a cup of coffee. Not quite real enough for my taste, but I let it slide for another ten minutes until I convinced her Auntie Eva’s kitchen was a safe place away from evil dragons, and that eating pancakes would give her strength to fight them off.

It’s a silly story, true, but the way she weaved her imaginary world captivated me. Each time I see her, she has created some romantic tale of fantasy and magic, a world she wants to involve everyone in. It’s a gift that most children have in their early years, making our already interesting world so much more amazing, colorful, and even a little more magical.

For some scientific reason we tend to lose this ability as we get older, both in our loss of fantastical thinking and in our hesitation to express these ideas. It’s a shame, really—but also the reason so many of us turn eagerly to the wild creativity we see in books and movies, hoping, if only for 300 pages or two hours, we might recapture our ability to run free through someone else’s imaginative musings. These pieces capture us in a world we might otherwise not experience, letting us imagine that we, too, are still the Pink and Purple Princesses (and Princes) of our youth. Those memories may be buried deep within, but somewhere in your mind and heart you might remember these moments bringing a smile to your face…so don’t forget to let them out every once in a while to play.

*** A giant kiss to my adorable niecey V! ***

%d bloggers like this: