Writing at Its Best: COVID-19 Edition, by Aaron Su

In the midst of our ongoing global pandemic, many of us are finding ourselves attending to friends or relatives in need; balancing new schedules and priorities; or perhaps just idling away at home, as we follow “social distancing” techniques to the best of our abilities. It may feel like our entire lives are being conditioned by this event. For this reason, it is especially important that we find ways to uplift ourselves by writing and speaking in ways that carry the full weight of what we want to say.

Stories have a profound capacity to bring us to places we have never been before, introducing us to new sights, smells, tastes, sounds, touches, and emotions. This may be the time we need to use our imaginations more than ever before. It also provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the value of our lives. We can think deeply about where we would want to be if the circumstances were otherwise, why we want to be there, and what factors contribute to these sentiments.

When we tell stories, setting is an important way to tell your readers or listeners where they are in time and space. Stories can transport people thousands of miles away, or to an entirely different world. Alternatively, they can also help to ground people in the current moment.

In establishing setting, detail is key. Here are a few tips you can use to enhance the power of where your stories take their audiences:

  1. Use all five senses, and more. Sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch are fundamental to the ways we navigate the world and imagine worlds outside of our own. You might even spend time trying to put a word to the mood, the atmosphere, or the environment of your piece: that unnameable quality that makes your own setting unique and powerful.
  2. Give specific details of people, places, and things. Imagine being able to take your audience and place them wherever you want on a map. In order to do so, you need the exact coordinates of where to drop them. You’ll need to emphasize the people in the story in all of their complexity, giving them names but also personalities and other attributes. What objects surround your setting? Are we in a desert with nothing but sand and cacti, or at the top of a skyscraper overlooking Tokyo?
  3. Sprinkle elements of the setting throughout your story. Don’t let your audience lose touch of where they are and what time period they are in. Constantly remind them of these details, so that you don’t lose them!