Congratulations, intrepid explorer! You’ve discovered one of our SECRET Setting Thesaurus entries.
This one is from The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Places. We hope the sensory information below will add a deeper richness to your story.
The setting is a powerful storytelling element that,when fully utilized, elevates every scene. When you choose the right one, it becomes an emotional tuning fork that will impact your character’s behavior, actions, and decisions.
Not only that, the setting can characterize your story’s cast, steer the plot, provide challenges and conflict, evoke mood, and become a gateway for critical backstory, delivering it not in dumps but actively through the placement of symbols that act as emotional triggers.
Inside: Packed hallways and rooms, people sitting on the stairs, beer cans and bottles left on tables, a blasting stereo, haze from cigarettes or pot, strung lights that shed colors across living room furniture, popcorn and chip fragments ground into the carpet, people forming a line to use the bathroom, people crowding onto couches and chairs or jumping chaotically to the music, groups standing around a pool table and cheering players on, snack bowls (chips, pretzels, popcorn) left on tables, steady traffic to the fridge in the kitchen or coolers in the garage, drink spills on the counters, a bag of ice sitting in the sink, discarded red plastic cups everywhere, girls sitting on the kitchen island, pizza boxes stacked on a counter or living room table, couples standing close together (flirting, arguing, making out, etc.), someone throwing up, empty liquor bottles sitting on available surfaces, coats piling up in bedrooms or creating a mountain on a recliner, a beer keg and funnel, empties piled in the sink, an overflowing trash can, someone making the rounds with a tray of colorful shooters or Jell-O shots, broken figurines or picture frames that have been knocked over, locked bedrooms that have been jimmied open
Outside: Puke on the lawn or in a bush, people smoking on the deck or in the backyard, cigarette butts mashed out on the walkway, someone passed out in a deck chair, couples making out in the shadows, partygoers stumbling out the front door, a bonfire, cars parked up and down the street, people sitting on the front step or hanging out in doorways, empty cups and beer cans littering the front steps, fights in the front yard, angry neighbors banging on the door, flashing lights from police cars, people rushing to leave
Loud music, people (laughing, yelling over the music, crying, screaming, arguing), glass breaking, a smoke alarm going off, doors opening and closing, beer bottles on the fridge door clinking together every time it’s opened, glasses thumping onto a tabletop, drunken whooping, the click of pool balls hitting each other and falling into pockets, cries of indignation as people are bumped and drinks are spilled, someone pounding on a bathroom door, the crunch of chips, slurping on beers and drinks, cell phones going off, people calling out for more beer, feet running up and down the steps, creaky spots in the floor, the TV blasting a hockey game, bowls of chips overturning, things being knocked over and smashed, horns honking outside, neighbors pounding on the door, police sirens, drunks (singing, hooting, swearing, falling down)
Spilled beer, a cloying mix of hair products and strong aftershave, alcohol, salty chips, popcorn fresh from the microwave, pizza, pot, cigarette smoke, vomit, sweat, beer breath
Hard liquor (rum, whiskey, vodka, gin), pop, water, cigarettes, pot, gum, mints, chips, popcorn, pretzels, pizza, beer, coolers
TEXTURES AND SENSATIONS
Sticky counters, crunchy chips under foot, being shoved or jostled in a crowd, squeezing up a tightly packed stairway, an anonymous pinch or grope in a crowded room, the unwelcome embrace of a sweaty drunk, brushing against others as one dances in a crowded space, a cool beer cup against the palm, wet lips after taking a swig, a splash of beer spilling down the front of one’s shirt, slipping on a spill in the kitchen, balancing on the edge of a chair or the armrest of a couch, salt from chips coating one’s fingers, the shock of cold as one digs through a cooler, clinking shot glasses with someone, a pool cue sliding along fingers, fending off drunks, kissing, holding hands, cool grass on one’s bare feet in the backyard, hot air against the skin as one sits around a bonfire, clothes sticking to skin, taking a drag of a cigarette or joint, lighting a cigarette for someone, water splashing one’s face as one tries to sober up, the shock of cold liquid against an eyeball when using eye drops to clear redness, fumbling with a smooth doorknob in the bathroom, the hard linoleum or tile floor against one’s knees as one barfs into the toilet, the sensation of dizziness or vertigo, prickly grass against the skin as one lies in the yard, falling into other people in giggling fits
POSSIBLE SOURCES OF CONFLICT
- The police showing up or one’s parents coming home
- Theft, vandalism, or property damage
- Drugs being sold, used, or put into someone’s drink
- Sexual assault
- Fights breaking out between rivals
- Drunks revealing secrets to others or saying something that can’t be taken back
- Running out of alcohol
- The party being crashed by an unwelcome group of people
- Someone passing out on the property
PEOPLE COMMONLY FOUND HERE
Angry neighbors, parents arriving home early, partygoers, police, younger siblings
RELATED SETTINGS THAT MAY TIE IN WITH THIS ONE
- Backyard, bathroom, kitchen, living room, patio deck
SETTING NOTES AND TIPS
Parties are only as crazy and destructive as the people attending them. If the person throwing the party has friends who are generally respectful and restrained, events likely won’t get too out of hand. If, however, one’s friends are looking to really let loose or are indiscriminate with their invites, things can easily spiral out of control. Adding alcohol or drugs to the mix, wanting to fit in, or the desire to attract a specific person’s attention can also lead to impaired judgment.
SETTING DESCRIPTION EXAMPLE
Greg’s wide shoulders came in handy on the packed stairway, and Jenn followed closely in his wake before the gap around him closed. The air was tight and hot, flavored with the skunky odor of pot. Music shook the windowpanes and had her bouncing to the beat; by the time she reached the basement, she was full-on throwing down, shaking away the stress of Monday’s finals, her broken curfew, and the fight with Allison. She’d deal with that crap tomorrow.
- Techniques and Devices Used: Multisensory descriptions
- Resulting Effects: Characterization, hinting at backstory, reinforcing emotion
A WORD FROM THE AUTHORS
To use this setting to the fullest, think about how your characters may behave around their peers. Will they do anything to fit in? Are they looking to settle a score, prove something, overcome stigma and challenge false perceptions? Or is this an escape opportunity, giving them a night off from the pain or responsibilities they deal with on a daily basis? Whatever you choose, make sure you include an adequate mix of party goers to create challenges, provide conflict, and (if you need it) generate explosive friction.
For more guidance on how to make the setting work harder for your story, use the “look inside” feature at Amazon to see if this might be a good resource for you.
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Angela and Becca
Image: Kaicho 20 @Pixabay