Setting: aphorisms and an exercise

One aphorism by Jerome Stern

  • A scene that seems to happen nowhere often seems not to happen at all.

and five by Janet Burroway.

  • Like dialogue, setting must do more than one thing at once, from illuminating the story’s symbolic underpinnings to such practical kinds of “showing” as reflecting emotion or revealing subtle aspects of a character’s life.
  • If character is the foreground of fiction, setting is the background, and as in painting’s composition, the foreground may be in harmony or in conflict with the background.
  • Seen through the eyes of a character, setting is never neutral.
  • When a reader senses that setting is being used to reveal something important, there is no danger of it being what one student calls “the stuff you skip.”
  • One of the most economical means of sketching a character is simply to show readers a personal space that the character has created, be it a bedroom, locker, kitchen, hideout, office cubical, or even the interior of a car.

This exercise gives you a chance to practice Burroway’s economical means of sketching a character. I’d like you to work on it once we’ve discussed it in class.

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