Establishing Setting

Very often, a student writer will write an introductory paragraph which explains the time and place of the story using verbs-of-being, for example:

It was 10:30 at night.
It was May 14, 2001.
It was dark.
It was raining.

When writing a narrative, the writer needs to reveal the setting rather than explain it to the reader. The first step is to use verbs-of-doing, and attribute the actions and perceptions to characters, placing them within the setting:

Steve stood on the corner.

Notice that this sentence does not read "Steve was on the corner" or "Steve was standing on the corner"; those are not verbs-of-doing.

Now that we've placed Steve on the corner, we need to provide some descriptives:

Steve stood silently on the corner.
Steve stood silently on the dark corner.
Steve stood silently on the dark, lonely street corner.

Now we know a little bit more about the scene, but we've reached the limit of adding descriptives to the existing sentence. Now we need a participial phrase to add actions and description:

Steve stood silently on the dark, lonely street corner, waiting for the bus.
Steve stood silently on the dark, lonely street corner, waiting impatiently for the bus.
Steve stood silently on the dark, lonely street corner, waiting impatiently for the Q66 bus.

Steve stood silently on the dark, lonely street corner, waiting impatiently for the Q66 bus to Sunnyside.

You can also add a subordinate clause:

As the hands of his watch ticked past 10:30, Steve stood silently on the dark, lonely street corner, waiting impatiently for the Q66 bus to Sunnyside.

As the hands of his Cartier watch ticked past 10:30, Steve stood silently on the dark, lonely street corner, waiting impatiently for the Q66 bus to Sunnyside.

As the luminescent hands of his Cartier watch ticked past 10:30, Steve stood silently on the dark, lonely street corner, waiting impatiently for the Q66 bus to Sunnyside.

Multiple actions can also add to the scene:

As the luminescent hands of his Cartier watch ticked past 10:30, Steve lit a cigarette and stood silently on the dark, lonely street corner, waiting impatiently for the Q66 bus to Sunnyside.

As the luminescent hands of his Cartier watch ticked past 10:30, Steve lit a cigarette with a gold-plated lighter and stood silently on the dark, lonely street corner, waiting impatiently for the Q66 bus to Sunnyside.

As the luminescent hands of his Cartier watch ticked past 10:30, Steve lit a cigarette with a gold-plated lighter and stood silently on the dark, lonely street corner, waiting impatiently for the Q66 bus to Sunnyside, which was nearly twenty minutes late.

Obviously, you need to be careful with sentences this long that they don't become run-ons. You do that by managing your punctuation and transitional words, and avoid using coordinating conjunctions like "and" and "but" to join independent clauses.

The point here is that setting can be established without coming out and explaining it. Better to write "
his watch ticked past 10:30" than "it was 10:30." Better to write "the rain fell" than "it was raining;" "the sun shone" instead of "it was sunny." Better to describe something from a character's point of view; something the character saw, heard, noticed, realized, etc., than to use a verb-of-doing with a single adjective.

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