What’s great about this exercise?
A place, even a supermarket, will look different to you on a day when you fall in love and a day when you get an eviction notice. Setting is always imbued with some emotion but sometimes this can be clichéd or predictable.
Think of how often gloominess is heralded by rain or dull skies. In reality, emotions are too wild and wayward to always produce expected responses. For example, Vera Brittain describes in her memoir Testament of Youth how she received a telegram announcing her brother’s death in WW1. In the absence of news after a battle, she had been both expecting it and convincing herself it was not true. When it arrived, she dealt with it briskly and stoically and then saw this:
‘As we went back into the dining room I saw as though I had never seen them before, the bowl of blue delphiniums on the table; their intense colour, vivid, ethereal, seemed too radiant for earthly flowers.’
She was so electrified by terrible news that her vision was momentarily jerked out of a habitual way of seeing.
Timing: 10 minutes
1. Choose a character you are working on or create a new one.
2. Place your character in a specific setting. This can be either ordinary (in the supermarket) or extraordinary (in the middle of a protest).
2. In the first or third person, use a few lines (like in the example above) to describe how your character experiences a jolting vision of his/ her setting, triggered by intense emotion.
The emotion might be joyous or sorrowful, for example, giving birth, climbing a mountain, falling in love, a sudden realization of not really knowing someone close.
3. Your character can focus on a tiny part of the setting, just as Vera Brittain focuses on the bowl of blue delphiniums, or he/she might have a wider impression of the places as a whole. Think carefully – and specifically – about how your character’s view of his / her setting is affected by the emotion experienced.
4. If suitable, try including the phrase: ‘as though I had never seen (them/ it/ her/him) before’.
Develop these few lines into a scene. Think about whether there are other characters present and what might lead from this heightened experience. What will your character do next?