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.

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.

A quick note on the highlighting. 

Strictly speaking, a position is usually indicated by a preposition:

  • in mountains
  • of rubble
  • around our feet

and so on. 

When we highlighted the snippets on this page, the meaning seemed to be less clear when we highlighted just the prepositional phrases.

So what we've done is say, here's a focus (e.g. moss covered bricks) and here is where that focus is in positioned in the world (e.g. it's piled in mountains of rubble).

So don't get too hung up on the grammar; focus on points of interest and their placement in the world.

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.

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.)

Describe the spatial relationships in a scene. Focus on a person or thing and describe where they are in the world. Hint: You can choose whether you want to describe a big-picture view, or zoom in on the details.