SETTING – more than just the scenery! 

Bali Eco Stay ResortRETREAT June 15 – 20 2023 BOOK NOW!! ONLY ONE ROOM LEFT!!

I’ll admit I haven’t always found writing setting easy. As I wrote my books I could see scenes playing out clearly in my head and thought the reader would somehow also see it the way I did by osmosis or some other magical device, because I wasn’t giving them much in the way of setting detail. These days I’ve come to realise just how important setting is, and the load it carries, not only in establishing our story worlds and grounding the reader in that world, but also the essential role setting plays in developing the tone of a piece of writing and in illustrating emotional undercurrents. 

Writers of fantasy, sci-fi, magic realism and historical fiction take note – worlds that are not easily imagined by a modern audience demand that the writer spend more time and page space on developing their story setting. This story world needs to be placed in time and space with key sensory physical and cultural details described so the reader is able to visualise where the story action is taking place and is familiarised with the mores and ethical laws of this new world. 

For example, a sci-fi novel set on a planet controlled by women where there are three moons but no sun, with trees as tall as skyscrapers and all dwellings are within the trunks of those trees, needs much more description than a story set in a modern shopping mall. A fantasy medieval world with modern gender sensibilities also needs greater description – not only of the physical but also of the societal aspects of the world. We need to give the reader enough clues about the story world, and demonstrate consistency in this world, both physically and culturally, so that they can relax and not have to strain over imagining where the action is taking place. When we are writing a piece based on a modern, familiar setting we don’t need to fill in as much detail, but we still need to use a few telling clues to establish where and when we are. See GROUNDING YOUR READER for more.


Artwork by Karla Dickens, photo by me.

One of my favourite writers, Karen Joy Fowler, author of Booth and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, once shared with me her tips for writing, and using these specific unexpected sensory details was one of the best. When we write prose rather than screenplays, we have the advantage of being able to use all of our senses, while screenwriting is confined to only what we can see and hear. So USE ALL FIVE SENSES in your writing. Show us the shapes and colours and give us the sounds but also include smells, and taste if you can, and the visceral experience of the body. The key is to make these details interesting. Choose the unexpected

For example, if you’re describing a teenage boy’s bedroom, we expect to see piles of dirty sports clothes, and some band posters on the wall, but we don’t expect to see a frog halfway through dissection and a collection of taxidermy projects lining the shelves. The cave dweller who had a crooked little finger that showed up every time she did a handprint is instantly recognisable through this one unexpected detail. Use the power of the unexpected in your setting descriptions!

Setting is not just the house or room or forest or sea or ship or castle or dungeon, it also includes what I call the “props” – furniture, decorations, contents of fridges or bags or other items in that setting. By choosing what you want the reader to focus on through your description of these specific unexpected details you can illustrate their personalities before they even appear on the scene. 


Describe a character through the contents of either their pockets, handbag or fridge. What clues can you give us about this character by what you choose to show us?

Artwork by Paul Yore, photo by me 🙂


The poet T. S. Eliot famously wrote about using objects to illustrate character emotions instead of baldly stating the feeling. For example. Instead of saying: Pam was totally frazzled, we could show Pam packing an overnight bag in a rush, but forgetting to close it properly so when she goes to leave everything falls onto the floor. Think of that old song “My Grandfather’s Clock” – the clock stops short, never to go again, when the old man dies. 


  • Use an object to illustrate emotion in your story.

Setting details can also reveal emotional undercurrents to a story and set the tone of the whole piece. Shakespeare often uses the weather to illustrate the emotional turmoil of his dramas. Storms and droughts and wild winds or gentle rain can all play a part in establishing the emotional setting of a scene. 


  • Add drama to a scene of conflict through using weather details – a blazing sun hammering down, a torrential downpour about to wash the hut away?

In a similar way, setting details used well in dialogue, can completely change the meaning behind the spoken words. There’s a big difference between “What time is it?” Rosie squints and slowly lifts her head from the pillow. And “What time is it?” Rosie hurls the cold saucepan full of soup at Bob’s head. 

Remember the key to good setting is the use of SPECIFIC UNEXPECTED TELLING DETAILS.

Have you got any tips for writing setting? Do let me know in the comments!

Lots of love

Edwina xx


Cover of A Guide Through Grief

Grief hurts! It hurts like hell. The pain of loss can be so intense it stops us in our tracks. I know; grief has been a shaping force in my life. A Guide Through Grief is the book I wished I’d had when I was fourteen and my father died after a long battle with cancer and I was thrown into the rollercoaster of emotions that accompanies the loss of someone or something you love. It has the tools I needed when my brother Matty killed himself at twenty after struggling with schizophrenia for many years. The tools I had when my infant son Teddy died after only a few days from a congenital heart defect.

For years I searched for a book that helped me find a way through what felt like the impenetrable maze of grief, something to show me the way forward. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying helped a bit, but every other text on grief I picked up only made me feel worse. I needed tools, practical ways to help myself feel better.

I never did find a book that helped, so I wrote one myself. In the years following the death of my son, I wrote A Guide Through Grief and in it I share all the practical and creative tools that helped me recover my joy in life.

So I am very happy to announce that I will be holding a

MOVING THROUGH GRIEF WORKSHOP at Books@Stones bookstore in Stones Corner, Brisbane on

Sunday 26th March 2023 from 10:30 am to 1pm.

Yes, shit happens. But turn that shit into fertiliser and grow yourself a beautiful garden. Let me show you how.

There is a way forward, you won’t always feel so lost. Let me gently guide you through some easy, soothing activities in a small group to help you find a way to smile at life again. Find your way through the maze of emotions grief brings in this gentle, nurturing 2.5 hour workshop led by an experienced facilitator who has experienced grief herself many times over and come out the other side, happy and strong.

Explore how using a variety of creative techniques and simple, non-strenuous yoga practices, will help you heal the pain of losing someone or something you love. This workshop will leave you feeling comforted, heard and held. You may even laugh a little 🙂

Places are strictly limited to no more than 15 participants so do DROP ME A LINE to confirm availability.

AGTG front cover (marketing) v10


Find your way through the maze of emotions grief brings in this gentle, nurturing 2.5 hour workshop led by an experienced facilitator that will leave you feeling comforted, heard and held. Explore how using a variety of creative techniques and simple, non-strenuous yoga practices, will help you heal the pain of losing someone or something you love. PLACES STRICTLY LIMITED TO A MAXIMUM OF 15 Morning snacks included in price


You will smile again. I promise.

With lots of love,

Edwina xxx