Narrative Writing


Revealing Character through Setting

A person's home or workplace can reveal a lot about their character.

The office on the top floor of the forty-story bank building reeked of power. Its glass wall looked over the heart of the financial district. Heavy carpet masked sounds of work beyond the closed walnut door. On one interior wall: shelves of books that included works on finance as well as great literature. Another wall was dominated by a small but priceless Picasso. The great walnut desk was clean, efficient, graced by a marble pen-and-pencil set and a framed picture of Harrigan himself with his beautiful young wife and their two children, whom he adored. Hidden in the bottom drawer on the right-hand side of the desk was a booklet he had ordered and received only recently; it described many ways by which a man who was terminally ill might take his own life.

Although we have not yet met Harrigan himself, we already know a lot about him—including the fact that he is planning to commit suicide.

Here is one more example.

As he entered the room from the hallway the first thing he noticed was the fusty smell: a combination of mold, damp and stale cigarette smoke. There were snail trails across the worn, brown, cord carpet that covered what little floor space there was. Opposite the doorway, pushed up against the wall, was a single bed, covered with a duvet but no duvet cover and a flat, tobacco-stained pillow.

Squeezed into the corner of the room at the foot of the bed was a chest of drawers. On top of the drawers was a single electric hotplate. Opposite this was a sink piled high with dirty pots with a toothbrush just visible, peeking out through the handle of a mug. Facing the bed was a small table with a fold up-chair. On top of the table was an overflowing ashtray and yesterday's newspaper. Behind the door stood a moldy wicker waste bin full of ash and cigarette ends.

Key Point: You can describe a person indirectly, by describing the place where they live or work.