Setting is often underrated as simply providing a backdrop for the story, but the setting has the potential to be more than just the location. In this seminar, we’ll look at the mechanics of painting a vivid scene and examine how writers use the setting to support every aspect of a story: from subtly revealing character traits to reinforcing larger themes, and even driving the plot.
At minimum, the location can ground the story and help the reader to imagine the unfolding events more clearly, but the location of a story can do much more work. Where the story or scene takes place influences the way characters talk (from dialect or language to register and tone) and how they interact (is the protagonist on their own turf or at the mercy of someone else’s?). If chosen thoughtfully, the setting details we share with the reader can set the tone for the piece, provide a window into what matters most to a character, and even help orient the reader in the timeline of the story.
In addition to reading and discussing fiction excerpts—from writers including Daphne Palasi Andreades, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Celeste Ng—with an eye toward tools and tricks we can use in our own work, we’ll do plenty of generative writing exercises in class that will help us understand setting in a whole new light and generate material for future writing projects. We’ll study examples in fiction, but narrative writers of any genre are welcome to join.
Participants will leave class with a deeper understanding of the supporting role setting can play in a story and how to craft setting details that help maximize the writer’s vision for the plot, characters, and themes of a story, as well as new content generated in response to our in-class prompts.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- How setting can support all aspects of a story from characters and theme to plot and suspense.
- Plenty of new tools and strategies for crafting vivid details that help maximize the writer’s vision for the story
- New content generated in response to in-class prompts
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Students should come prepared to write in response to class prompts and participate in sharing ideas. Participants will spend up to an hour each week reading and writing on their own time in preparation for each session. I will also share supplementary reading recommendations and exercises for participants to engage with if they so choose. This seminar does not include written feedback from the instructor or other members of the class, though light verbal feedback might be given in class if time allows for sharing in-class prompt response.
Week One: Reimagining Setting — How can we generate setting descriptions that go beyond flat descriptions to engage the reader?
Week Two: Character — How can we use the setting to reveal characters’ nuances, desires, and perspectives?
Week Three: Plot & Pacing — How can location contribute to the action of the story, set the pacing, and help drive the plot?
Week Four: Theme, Tone & Tension — How can we select specific settings details that will create a distinct tone, support the story’s themes, and generate tension?
Shoshana Akabas is a New York based writer, teacher, and translator. She was awarded a fiction teaching fellowship at Columbia University, where she earned her MFA in fiction and literary translation. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Elle Magazine, Kenyon Review, The Believer, Electric Literature, and American Short Fiction, among others, and her work has been supported by Gladstone's Library, Jentel, and National Geographic. Check out her work at ShoshanaAkabas.com and follow her @shoshanaakabas.
"Shoshana is very articulate and clear in her delivery of information. She also has a vast collection of skills, techniques, and advice that is extremely relevant and helpful; a lot of the things that she said in class are memorable and will definitely be employed in my future writing. A major bonus is her enthusiasm about our writing and her genuine care for everything we were working on."
"Shoshana is wonderful. The readings she selected for the course were all valuable, and she does an excellent job of fostering productive discussions. She implements a very wide variety of exercises to help students engage with texts and improve their writing method. Her passion for teaching and her investment in her students' success is apparent; she truly cares about what she does, and she is an incredible instructor for it. I cannot recommend Shoshana highly enough."
"This has been one of the best classes I've ever taken. I say that without any doubt in my mind. Shoshana is a fantastic teacher who is committed to her students, easy to understand, and maintains the positives of a structured course as well as spontaneous discussion. I am confident in my ability to write well now, and I have to accredit that almost entirely to her."
"Shoshana is a gift. Never have I met an instructor who is more engaging, helpful, or excited to educate than her. Her classes are always interesting and offer a good amount of student-led discussion without her losing her authority or place as the leader. She has taught us to be wonderful readers, thinkers, and people. Perhaps that is what truly makes Shoshana special: she treats her classroom as not just a place to learn writing techniques, but as a place to become a better individual, both intellectually and morally. Truly, not enough good things can be said about Shoshana."
"Akabas hooks us into the story and then reels slowly, the answers appearing one by one, so brief they could almost be overlooked… I loved this slow burn, the piecing together of the puzzle until the full picture is revealed….Melancholy and rife with the emotional ups and downs of high school, 'By the Creeks of Wyoming,' is a quick yet beautiful read."
"Shoshana Akabas[’s]... piercing story 'The Forgetting Diary' ...has more layers than a lasagna: warmth, tenderness, sarcasm, sorrow, and regret. Associate Editor Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky and I found it impossible to resist. In one sentence, we can glimpse all of the layers Akabas must have worked through many drafts to build: loss, guilt, and tenderness. Also a hint of sarcasm, which is absolutely winning... Her one-liners can be devastating as they are funny... 'The Forgetting Diary' is the perfect short story for a new year."