I spent the past few minutes looking around my room, as I tend to do in the small sliver of time I give myself to come up with a solid idea for a blog post.
I scanned the books, the souvenirs people have given me on their return from world travels, the medals and bib numbers from races past. Honor chords from graduations; photos; the abandoned computer printer shoved into a corner.
A room, whether it be a bedroom or an office or a kitchen, says a lot about a person. It is a collection of things they have saved and/or use, depending on the location. Setting is its own form of exposition; where you place your characters, whether fictional or real people, matters. It gives readers a look not only into their life, but the things that are important to them – or, in some cases, things that aren’t.
I am the 20-something still living in the room I’ve had since I was 13. Virtually everything I own is crammed into this small space. But it’s the things I keep that speak to who I am – the book-obsessed, athletic knowledge junkie who hasn’t quite gotten around to packing away everything non-essential to my adult life. This is where and who I am. If my room were the beginning of a book, you would be able to draw many of these conclusions for yourself.
There’s no need to describe every single setting of every single scene in detail, depending on your style and preferences, of course. But there should always be at least one room that grants a full tour. Settings, used in this way, save space, empowering your audience to gather all they can about the person or persons that occupy this setting the most.
I wrote one character who didn’t like to spend time in her bedroom, so the walls and shelves were mostly bare. I’ve had others who gravitate toward the kitchen or a studio or basement – one of my favorites was the love interest whose basement walls were lined with guitars. Your character’s room – their place, where they feel most at home – use it. Paint pictures with it. Say a thousand things without saying anything at all.
It’s not just for novels or short stories. If you’re a journalist writing a feature story, use the environment to drive things forward. Use it in poems, in songs – anywhere, everywhere. A room is not just a place where things happen. It is the foundation of who your character is, how they live their life, how they act when no one is watching.
This is important, all of it. It’s just one way to tell a story, but it’s a fascinating one, isn’t it?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.