Setting Basics Activity 06: Spatial relationships

Describing the Physical World

Spatial relationships

To paint a picture, we often want to describe where things are in relation to each other.

For example, in this snippet, characters have climbed through jungle to find some ancient ruins.

Moss-covered bricks are piled in mountains of rubble, coating every inch of the plateau. The only signs that life ever existed are the shattered skulls littered around our feet.

Children of Blood and BoneTomi AdeyemiSource

In this snippet, Tomi Adeyemi shows us wide landscape of a jungle plateau.

Note that we don't see the narrator; we see the landscape from their point of view, with ruins all around us.

What do we mean by focus and position?

Here’s a second snippet, this one from Erin Entrada Kelly, in which instead of seeing a big landscape, we zoom in on tiny details in one room.

A plastic Stop-N-Go bag dangled from her wrist. Even from the couch, I could tell that it held a carton of cigarettes and a Styrofoam box of greasy fried food.

The Land of Forgotten GirlsErin Entrada KellySource

In this snippet, Entrada Kelly guides our eye between focal points. 

  • We focus on the plastic bag, which is positioned as dangling from somone's wrist.
  • We then move to the sofa, where we focus on the narrator for a moment.
  • Finally we shift to the inside of the bag, where we focus on the cigarettes and fried food inside.

Here are a couple of examples that focus on different elements and position them in the world:

Their community nestled in a gap in the mountains, protecting the last of their spaces. As Kirra and the others emerged from between the trees they could see all the way to the  highway past the town.

The Christmas tree stood to one side of the main intersection, framed from every angle by inviting shop-fronts. Agatha flew over the town centre on her new broom, careful to keep the polished handle pointing to the north.

Again, each example builds a world by focusing on elements and positioning them relative to each other. (The community is nestled between the mountains, the kids are emerging from the trees, Agatha is flying over the town, the broom handle is pointed north.)

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