Setting: Different Perspectives

Last week during Teachers Write (which I am trying to keep up with!), there was a prompt about setting (you can read it here). Setting is a weakness of mine, an inconvenience at best. I usually just scan right past the setting in the books I read. I never thought about it as a way to reflect character, like Elana K. Arnold talks about in her blog post.

The exercise she had the teachers/librarians do was to observe a place near us. I, of course, was at Starbucks, so I wrote about the table I was sitting at.

Mahogany but a false one. Irregular grooves to look authentic. A little space between the edge of the table and a dark brown rim that mysteriously catches crumbs—useful to keep the floor clean, but a little odd to look at. What are the stories of these crumbs? Usually eight chairs, but a few taken to add to other tables. After all, this is a working table. The light is the best here. Not the place to be comfy and cozy with friends, but sometimes used that way when there’s no other space. For four people, two frappuccinos, one iced latte, one iced tea; tall, tall, grande, grande. One book, three phones, two computers, one tablet. The future of the coffee shop.


Then, a challenge: write about the same table, but this time, from a few different perspectives.

Lost 6 year old: I sit at the huge table. All these people here, and I don’t know who to ask about my mommy. Maybe Mommy is in the bathroom or maybe I’ll see her out the window. These people all look too busy to talk to me so I look at the table again. They don’t even look up at me. I lay my head down on the hard wood and try not to cry.

Satisfied house cat: Ah, a lovely place to stretch out. I sniff at the table and smell bitter and sweet. I stretch out like a tube. Not comfortable yet. I stand up and walk in circles until I find the exact spot to flop down. The wood is hard but the space is mine. I give my best glare to the people around me and they get up and leave, one by one. The table, and the universe, is mine.

15 year old, just heard about her parents’ divorce: I stumble over to the long table, the only area not crowded. I’d much rather be on one of the comfortable red chairs near the fireplace. Why am I here if all I want to do is hide? I open my journal and pretend to write, but all I do is sketch, my mother and my father, and then me and Skye, with a jagged line in between us. I want to take a paper clip and carve the picture into the table, because this is permanent and there should be a permanent record.

Fun! Maybe I’ll even examine the setting of my book. Maybe.

Starbucks: A Love Affair

Most writers I know crave quiet. They’re most productive in a home office, or writing with their laptops in bed, or at the library.

I am one of those people who works best with noise around me. And caffeine.

At the moment I do almost all of my writing at Starbucks. I have my favorite table, the one with the fuzzy back seat right next to the fireplace. (C’mon. Admit it. You’re jealous that my Starbucks has a fireplace.) There are tables I won’t sit at, because they’re too much in the center of the room. I’d rather wait for one of the good seats on the sides, or join someone else at one of those tables until they’re too uncomfortable and they just happen to leave.

And then there’s the drink: iced venti skinny vanilla latte with three Splendas. A few times they’ve made the drink for me before I’ve gotten in line. Yep, I’m there that often.

The conversations swirl around me and I don’t hear them at all. I like the pleasant hubbub of voices. It’s like white noise, which I also sleep with. Some writers listen to music as they write, but I can’t concentrate like that.

Now, there have been exceptions to me ignoring the conversations. Every once in a while, there are conversations that are so interesting I have to eavesdrop. It’s… character analysis, right? The three conversations were: a first date–at the end she asked him to go to dinner and he said he had an early meeting the next morning–ouch!; a job interview (almost as awkward as a date); and a woman telling her friend that her daughter had died. I’m not trying to be flippant, I swear. It was just a conversation that shouldn’t have happened at Starbucks.

I suppose I should go to a funky local coffee shop instead. The problem is, I like the conformity of Starbucks. I’m instantly at home in any of them. I can find the best seats, relax into the conversations, and drink the right drink.

I may be a sucker, but – it works for me.