10 Specifics of Setting

Last week I spoke of Pat Carr and how much I learned from her at the Ozark Creative Writers conference. One of the lessons I learned, and will be using during WIP rewrites and planned short stories, is how to use setting for emphasis and contrast. She shared a list of specifics and they use all the senses.

  1. Odor
  2. Time of day and season
  3. Temperature
  4. Sound
  5. Important object
  6. Dominate color
  7. Dominate shape
  8. Something that can be touched
  9. Taste
  10. Certain slant of light


She had us write a short scene with this list in mind. We were to limit description to three or four sentences and use action and dialogue rather than thoughts. We had approximately five minutes to come up with something under 250 words. I didn’t quite accomplish my goal, but it really pushed me to hone skills I often neglect.

This is my scene:

They entered the fair grounds near the cattle enclosure. The smell of animal waste hung in the fall air.

Alex took Jenny’s hand and they ran laughing to the midway where their friends waited. They had to raise their voices to be heard above the din of carnival rides.

Betty handed her bag of cotton candy to Jenny and began yelling at her boyfriend.

Alex and Jenny nibbled on the confection and rolled their eyes at the arguing couple. He smiled and used his thumb to wipe a stray bit of sugar from her cheek. The lights from the midway gave her a glow and the urge to pull her close spiraled through his body. He cupped her cheek. Her eyes clashed with his.

The noise faded as he leaned in and placed his lips to hers. A first kiss. A kiss that ended too soon.

“You taste like cotton candy,” he said.

This is a revised version of my scene. I didn’t get all of the elements in such as a dominate shape, but it’s a definite improvement:

Alex helped Jenny slip into his denim jacket and placed a finger to his lips. Keeping to the shadows, they sneaked into the fair grounds near the cattle enclosure. The smell of animal waste hung in the crisp fall air. He chuckled as Jenny used the collar of his jacket to cover her nose.

Lights greeted them as they left the dark recess of the animals behind. The aroma of hot dogs and funnel cakes replaced the earthier smells. He took her hand and they ran laughing to the midway where their friends waited. They had to shout their greetings to be heard above the din of carnival rides and their screaming victims.

Blythe handed a half-eaten bag of cotton candy to Jenny and draped herself over her latest boyfriend. “I can’t eat one more bite or I’ll hurl.”

Jenny and Alex dipped into the pink confection.

The strings of lights overhead reflected off the mirrored tilt-a-whirl to their left. Jenny’s face became a kaleidoscope. Alex smiled and used his thumb to wipe a stray bit of sugar from the corner of her mouth, then cupped her cheek. Her eyes clashed with his.

He leaned in and placed his lips to hers for their first kiss, one that hovered between chaste and something more. A kiss that ended too soon.

“You taste like cotton candy,” he said.

I think I’ll be using this list as a measuring stick for all my projects from now on.

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10 Specifics of Setting | Using the senses to create scenes:
How to use setting for emphasis and contrast: