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what does it tell you, the setting?

“Place connects characters to a collective and personal past, and so place is the emotional center of story. And by place, I don’t simply mean location. A location is a dot on the map, a set of coordinates. Place is location with narrative, with memory and imagination, with history. We transform a location into a place by telling its stories.”–John Dufresne, The Lie That Tells a Truth

Some years ago in another life, I taught writing and literature in a high school. Students at that level continue to learn about plot, setting, character, theme, the fundamentals of a story, in other words.

I liked teaching setting and how it could reflect a character. In other words, put a person in a room and tell me who she is from the description of it? What can you tell me about her?

My students, who were living in an upper middle class, suburban neighborhood, would have different perceptions and options than those students living in a big city, such as New York City.

A cautious person satisfied with her situation wouldn’t think of heading into the unknown. The surroundings for her in the story would reflect that. The setting reveals the person.

In one exercise I brought to the classroom a box of objects and spread them on a table. I asked the students to examine them. I asked, “Can you imagine a person from these objects?” (The objects came from my living room coffee table.)

I like mysteries. Whodunnits. I like trying to figure out who the villain is. I look for clues in the story much like a detective who takes out his magnifying glass à la Sherlock Holmes and begins painstakingly examining the scene of the crime. Surely from the setting of the crime one could find a link to the villain.

(Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

No crime has been committed here. Several settings are illustrated. They have many things in common. Those clues represent in part a life lived on the Côte d’Azur one winter. The objects have been spread out. What do they tell about the person?

(Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

 

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Jack Delaini #

    He likes to eat well??….

    06/04/2018

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