Using Terrain Features in Story

Terrain refers to the horizontal and vertical surfaces of the land. It is often spoken of in terms of elevation, slope and the orientation of particular land features. Depending upon certain circumstances, terrain can affect the flow of water, where bodies of water are located and in what quantity. It can even affect weather and climate.

Suitability for human life is determined by terrain. Picture a large swath of desert and a high rocky crag. How difficult would it be for people to sustain life in such terrains? What people wear, eat and how they construct dwellings is determined by terrain.

Your task is to write a story in a challenging terrain. You might have to do some research first to get ideas about how difficult it would be to live there. Your story can be science fiction or contemporary. It can take place in the past or in the future.

The important thing is to choose a terrain that may not be the most hospitable. Don’t rely on exposition to tell the story: have characters interacting with each other as they navigate survival.

Have fun with this one.

Flora and Fauna in Setting

            The terms flora and fauna refer to the plants and animals of a particular place at a particular time and are dependent upon the specific region, climate and time period. These environments could be grasslands, redwood forest or savannah.

            Native flora refers to those plants that are to the area. They grow without human help or cultivation. Another category is horticultural flora, plants grown for food or consumption. One example is the giant redwood tree found in Northern California and can range in age from 800 to 1500 years old. A variety of birds and animals life there. 

Another type of plant is found in the deserts of Angola,  one with large leaves that wilt during dry times and swell when there are rains.

            Likewise fauna falls into similar categories. Animals live above and under water, in deserts and in rainforests. They can be tiny creatures like protozoans and large like elephants. They exist in artic tundras and in coral reefs. Specific types of birds must have environments conducive to their life. Same is true for all animals, big and small.

            Your task is to define a setting by its flora and fauna. Make two lists, one for each. If necessary, research what would grow/live in the environment that you are considering. After your list is complete, think of a way that the elements influence story. For example, tusk hunters kill elephants in order to make money to survive. Squirrels remove nuts and fruits from trees before humans can harvest them. Deer eat flowers and leaves.

            Write a story in which flora and fauna play an important role.

            Have fun with this one.

Geographical Features

            Geography is the study of places and the relationships with the people who live there. It looks at the physical properties of the Earth’s surface and how those elements affect impact life. It concerns itself with the how and why things are distributed or arranged in particular ways on Earth’s surface and it seeks to understand how things that are located in the same or distant places influence one another over time and why the people who live in them develop and change in particular, and sometimes unique ways.

Geographical features are naturally occurring such as the composition of soil, the height, width and breadth of mountains, the types of clouds that typically form over a given area, and the presence of natural bodies of water regardless of size or shape.

The geography of an area doesn’t just determine whether humans can live there, it also determines their lifestyles in terms of available food and the types of shelter needed to survive the climate patterns throughout seasons.

Because of the impact of geography, it can play a major role in story. A scene set in the mountains of Appalachia will be completely different than one the takes place on a southern California beach.

Your task is to write a scene in which geography affects how your character lives and the choices he makes. Sensory details will be key in establishing atmosphere. Remember to include dialogue, action and narrative.

Have fun with this one.

Rooms, Houses and Buildings

In any story, regardless of genre, characters enter buildings of various types, ranging from simple mud huts to enormous skyscrapers. They might pass through a grand ballroom with an array of sparkling chandeliers or a rustic bathroom consisting of a hole in the floor.

No matter the room, the descriptions must be real because rooms are where we gather. In the ballroom they might attend a conference focusing on a medical issue or participate in a fiftieth wedding anniversary. At some point they use the bathroom. Are the counters granite or mud shelves imbedded in the wall? Does water run out of an artistic arrangement of descending pots or is there a simple bowl with standing water?

The spaces through which our characters pass reveal details about environment and its impact on they lives. Your descriptions are therefore critical in setting the scene. The way residences are decorated tell us who the characters are. A sparsely outfitted studio is vastly different from a castle on a hill filled with massive wood tables, chairs and cabinets.

Your task is to write a story in which buildings are not just backdrops but play a role in adding to the story.

How will readers know if a room is lavish unless hints of splendor appear? Or if the hut’s dirt floor is neatly brushed or covered with straw mats?

While setting is important, it also cannot dominate the scene. Be careful when writing to ensure that the amount of description does not overtake the story.

Have fun with this one.

Living Conditions

Picture a pastoral scene where tidy thatched cottages are nestled between rows of green hedges. Walk inside and take a look around. Useful pottery lines handmade shelves. A kettle hangs over a fire and items of clothing hang from wooden pegs high up on the wall.

Now imagine a teeming city. Perhaps the streets are muddy or maybe they are made with cobblestones. Wooden buildings several stories high line both sides. Laundry hangs out of some of the windows. Children’s voices echo as they kick a ball down the street. Inside the floor is a dingy linoleum or maybe stained carpet. Cooking smells mingle creating an unpleasant odor.

Very different living conditions, right? Where your story takes place influences how people live. The wealthy will not have the same needs as the poor. This is an important element to consider when writing a story.

Your task is to first create a list of possible living conditions for your story. Include enough detail that it comes alive. Next select the one that will make the most interesting scenario and write.

You could take us down memory lane or off to a futuristic settlement. Maybe you prefer a certain historical period and so want to use those conditions in your story.

When you are finished, reread looking for the details that allow readers to walk with your character.

Have fun with this one.