Setting in Time

fiction writing exercises setting in time

Fiction writing exercise: setting your story in time.

Today’s fiction writing exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises, which imparts lessons and techniques on the craft of storytelling and provides practical exercises for study and practice. This exercise focuses on setting and more specifically, making sure readers know where every scene in a story takes place. Enjoy!

Setting in Time

An aspect of setting that is often overlooked is time—when a story takes place. This is an element of setting that historical authors pay close attention to, often conducting deep research to get every detail right—the clothes, the methods of transportation, and the society and culture as it existed at a particular moment in history.

But even authors of contemporary fiction must remain cognizant of a story’s timeline. When do the story events occur? What year? What season? What time of day?

In addition to establishing when a story takes place, we need to make sure readers always know where they are in a story’s timeline. If there’s a scene jump, did an hour pass? A day? A month? How do readers know? Read More

Plot Points: A Storytelling Exercise

fiction writing exercises plot points

How to use plot points for creating stories.

Today’s fiction writing exercise is an excerpt from Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises. This exercise focuses on plot points, which you can use to construct stories and to resolve issues with a story’s plot and structure. Enjoy!

Plot Points

Plot points are the events that move a story forward—the twists, turns, and developments that push the characters toward the climax and resolution. Each plot point is a significant moment in the grander scheme of things. If a character loses her keys as a way to show us she’s absent-minded, then it’s not a plot point (it’s characterization). But if she loses her keys when she needs to drive to the emergency room in a life-or-death situation, then it becomes a plot point. Read More

Sneak Peek at Story Drills: Character Arcs

fiction writing exercise character arcs

Fiction writing exercise: character arcs.

Today’s post offers a sneak peek at my forthcoming book, Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises. This exercise examines character arcs. Enjoy!

Character Arcs

In storytelling, an arc is a path of transformation. A character arc is the journey that a character experiences throughout the course of a story, which leads to a significant change.

Changes can occur internally or externally. Characters can acquire or lose knowledge, skills, or emotional strength—or they can gain or lose relationships, material possessions, or status. Some of the best character arcs are a combination of both internal and external transformations. Read More

Fiction Writing Exercises: Step Out of Your Shoes

fiction writing exercises

Step out of your shoes with these fiction writing exercises.

I recently shared a writing exercise that encouraged you to get into a character’s head. Today’s exercise asks you to go a step further and explore characters and ideas that are your polar opposites.

One of the most exciting and challenging aspects of being a writer is creating characters. It is an opportunity to step outside of your own reality and take on a completely different persona. Unless you’re an actor, an undercover agent, or just plain crazy, you don’t get many chances in life to do that. Read More

Getting Into Character: Fiction Writing Exercises

character fiction writing exercises

Fiction writing exercises for developing characters.

Writers are not actors, but sometimes we need to get into character.

To truly understand the nature of a character, a writer must step into that character’s shoes. You can use character sketches and descriptions while you’re creating a character, but the character will remain two dimensional until you can get into the character’s head and understand what makes them tick. Read More

Fiction Writing Exercises for Stimulating Creativity

fiction writing exercises

Stimulate your creativity with these fiction writing exercises.

Do you ever feel like the story you’re writing is bland? Like it needs to be spiced up? Or maybe you want to write a story but you’re fresh out of ideas.

Fiction writing exercises are perfect for toning your storytelling muscles. They can also provide you with a wealth of ideas for writing projects.

Today’s fiction writing exercises are designed to stimulate creativity and get you thinking about storytelling from fresh angles. Read More

Fiction Writing Exercises: The Power of Prose

fiction writing exercises

Fiction writing exercises for crafting strong prose.

When we writers discuss fiction, we usually focus on plot, setting, dialogue, and especially characters. These, of course, are the essential elements of decent storytelling. But what we often forget to address is the prose.

The words we choose to depict action, express characters’ thoughts, and render their dialogue is another important, albeit often overlooked, element of storytelling.

Language can raise a story to new heights or it can make a story sink. If readers are struggling to understand words and phrases or if they’re constantly distracted by unnecessary words and repetition, the story will take a backseat to the poorly constructed prose, and you’ll risk losing the readers.

No matter how compelling your story is, if you can’t convey it through well crafted prose, it will get lost in the slush pile and end up in the discount bin. Today’s fiction writing exercises encourage you to set story aside and focus instead on the language, which is at the very heart of the craft of writing. Read More

Fiction Writing Exercises for Creating Characters

fiction writing exercises

Create characters with these fiction writing exercises.

Whenever I’m working on a story idea, I spend a lot of time during the development stages making character sketches and writing backstories for my characters. I usually end up with too many of them, so some characters get cut. The lucky ones get resurrected in some other story.

Some of my favorite stories are plot-driven, but character-driven stories tend to resonate with me on a deeper level, which is why I believe that regardless of plot, stories with strong and compelling character arcs are the best. They start with a character who wants something, and we see the character through conflict after conflict until he or she emerges changed, usually stronger and for the better. Read More

3 Fiction Writing Exercises

Three fiction writing exercises

Fiction writing exercises for story development.

Fiction writing exercises can help you discover storytelling techniques and provide ideas and inspiration for your fiction writing projects.

These exercises provide practice and experience for young or new writers. For more experienced writers, these exercises offer inspiration and can help you see a story from a fresh perspective.

Today’s fiction writing exercises are carefully chosen to help you develop some of the most critical components in a story. If you can create a few characters; identify a conflict, climax, and resolution; and choose a theme, you’re well on your way to writing a short story or novel that will resonate with readers. Read More

Fiction Writing Exercises for Developing Setting

fiction writing exercises for developing setting

Develop setting with these fiction writing exercises.

Setting is one of the most important elements in fiction writing. If your readers don’t know where the story is taking place, they’ll get lost and confused, and it will be hard for them to enjoy your tale.

Some stories have simple settings based on real places. You can use your hometown or a major city. A setting can also be completely dreamed up, which is often necessary in speculative fiction writing (Wonderland and Never Land, for example). You can keep a setting in the background, referring to it only when necessary, or you can bring it to the forefront and allow it to function as a character in your story.

Some authors go to great lengths to take the reader through a story’s setting. Just last year, I read a book in which the character drove around Los Angeles. The author took us down L.A. streets, past parks, and into real neighborhoods and establishments. It was a bit much, but I’m pretty sure if I were a resident of L.A., I would have gotten a little thrill out of the familiarity.

Today, we’ll take a deeper look at setting with a few fiction writing exercises designed to help you establish the settings in your story.




Fiction Writing Exercises: Place and Time

There are two sides to setting: place and time. If you’re writing a contemporary novel, the time in which your story is set is relatively straightforward. However, if you’re writing historical fiction, futuristic fiction, or a story that includes time travel, you’ll need to make sure readers always know what time it is.

Setting it Up

For this exercise, you will choose several settings and write short, opening descriptions that tell the reader when and where the action is taking place. Contemporary readers aren’t crazy about lengthy descriptions, so keep it simple: a couple of sentences or a short paragraph of description will suffice. Here are a few prompts to help you get started:

  • A ghost town in the wild old west.
  • A contemporary metropolis.
  • A medieval household.
  • A made-up fantasy land.
  • Aboard a vessel, such as a spaceship, in the far-off future.

Setting as Backdrop: Too Much vs. Not Enough

For this exercise, you’ll write a short scene that kicks off the story and establishes the setting. Instead of presenting a snapshot of the landscape before moving into your story, you can bring readers right into the setting by combining the setting’s description with action and by using active language rather than passive:

  • Instead of describing busy streets packed with shoppers, show readers that shoppers coursed through the streets like rats in a maze.
  • You can bring characters into the setting: Kate craned her neck and spied a tiny patch of sky amidst the towering skyscrapers.  
  • In establishing time, you can simply state the date (the year was 2012) or you can place something in the setting that identifies the era: A brand new 2012 Porche sped by and Kate whirled on her heels just in time to see it disappear around the corner of Lexington.

Setting as Character

Places that have a life of their own are hugely popular. Many science fiction and fantasy stories are set in places that function as characters: the U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek and Pandora from Avatar are two good examples. But cities, towns, and rural landscapes can also have personality. For example, New York has been called the fifth main character in Sex and the City. Houses, vehicles, cities, planets, nations, and rooms can all have personalities of their own.

For this exercise, write a character sketch for a place. Make a list of its traits: personality, style, attitude, class, and philosophy. Is it relaxed and laid back or dark and dangerous? Does it swallow people or lift them up? Is it friendly to newcomers or is it exclusive?

If you’re inclined, go ahead and write a scene or outline to show off your setting’s personality. Remember: just because the setting is functioning as a character doesn’t mean it’s the protagonist or antagonist. It can be a minor character and still largely function as the story’s backdrop (rather than forefront). Make sure you keep the focus of the story on the plot and characters.

How Do You Approach Setting?

Some writers don’t think much about setting. They know exactly where their story takes place, and the setting emerges naturally through the writing. But sometimes, a poorly established setting is unclear or confusing. Do you pay heed to setting? Do you work it out before you start your first draft? If you know of any other great fiction writing exercises that focus on setting, be sure to share them in the comments. And keep writing!

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