When you describe a setting, the way you describe it depends on your own personal perspective. People often see places very differently from each other, for example; the forest glade below may appear appealing and friendly to one person, but to someone else, who may have had a bad experience in the woods, or just feel more comfortable with urban settings, it could look like a scary or spooky place to be.

I have taken this photograph and applied three different filters to it (the first is the original, for comparison). Choose just one version of the photograph – how does it make you feel about the scene? 

Who could you imagine there and what would they be doing?

As an example, in the original photo, I would imagine a woman walking her dog.

The warm tones photo reminds me of Centre Parcs (a popular forest holiday park) and I could see a family with two young children and a small dog frolicking.

The unnatural tones photograph makes me think an alien spaceship could be hovering above.

In the sepia toned one, I could see a couple of ghostly Edwardian children walking down the path.

Warm tones
Unnatural tones
Sepia tones

When you describe a setting, remember to describe the colours – like the filters I have used above, this will affect its atmosphere and how it ‘feels’ to the reader – remember, the reader cannot see the image in your head unless you describe it to them.

And, what sounds might you hear? Is it silent or noisy – be specific with background noises that will add to the overall sense of the place.

What would you feel? Is it cold, is there a breeze blowing round your ears, are there biting bugs, prickly branches, feathery ferns tickling your legs?

What can you see? Is there any wildlife – gentle bumble bees or nasty gnats, friendly foxes or snarling vermin, playing dogs, lovely songbirds or ‘Hitchcock’s birds’?

Scene colour exercise 1

Write a couple of paragraphs to describe each of the forest scene photographs, using colour, shade and tone to set the atmosphere.

You could put yourself or another character/s into some of the scenes and describe the scene from their point of view.

I have posted the photos again below, in a larger size so you can focus on just one at a time.

Sepia tones
Warm tones
Unnatural tones

Scene colour exercise 2

Visit some different locations or recall some you have visited previously; both indoors and write down a factual account of what you see, what you can hear, what you can feel and what you can smell.

Next, decide on a specific ‘mood’ for the setting – is it going to be happy, spooky, romantic, mysterious or dangerous?  Now re-write the description of the location, ‘colouring’ all aspects of it to take on the mood you have designated to it.

For example:  The museum is an opulent building, with wooden panels and velvet adorning every surface. Glass cabinets displayed Victorian clothes and the musty scent of damp permeates the air.

I’m going to give it a spooky mood: The opulence of the past shrieked entitlement through the echoing wooden panels that hid secret doorways and fingerprints of those long dead. Velvet seats, now threadbare, still bore indentations, as if someone invisible was sitting next to me, while I half expected the musty-clothed mannequins to re-animate under the shadowy Victorian lamps.

Or, to rewrite it with a excited mood: The building was vast, crammed with precious treasures each screaming for my undivided attention. Indentations on the velvet viewing benches told of a many a visitor, equally enthralled with the gorgeous gowns and adornments of our past. 

I would love to see your descriptions, please do post them in the comments below.

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