Setting as antagonist

Open University course – Start Writing Fiction

2.1 Setting as antagonist

Write a scene in which a character is unhappy in his or her surroundings. For example, he or she might be:

  • shy
  • frightened
  • disgusted
  • trapped
  • homesick

Show the feelings through the descriptions of the place, rather than by naming the feelings.

First day back.  The worn floor squeaks under my feet.  Freshly waxed.  I can still smell the antiseptic solution the janitor always uses while we’re out on break.  The smell of the chemicals mixing with aroma of the stale, re-heated breakfast wafting from the cafeteria for the free lunch program kids creates a sickly, nausea-inducing scent.   Students push by me.  I’m walking too slowly, I know. I hear feminine laughter ringing out, floating down the hall, dancing above my head.  There are whispers as my so-called peers pass by.  Psycho, one boy spits angrily as he shoulder-checks me, knocking everything from my hands.  I stoop down to gather my things, as a high heeled, perfectly pedicured foot kicks one of my books away.  Just slit your wrists already.  

I ignore her, get my stuff and stand up, realizing I’m right outside the room where it happened.  I step inside.  It’s totally empty at the moment.  The wall of windows across the room lets so much sunlight in it’s blinding.   The windows must be freshly scrubbed too.  I rush over to the windows and draw all of the shades.   It’s eerily quiet as I stand there in the almost darkness.  Without the light, I thought it would be different, better, somehow.  Students continue to their destinations in the hall, not noticing me now.  I crouch to the floor in the corner of the room, touching one of the tiles.  It’s been scrubbed clean too of course, of any sign of her, of what happened here.  It’s just cold.  I stand, not knowing what to do with myself.

I feel a dry hand on my shoulder and nearly jump out of my skin.  “Are you supposed to be in here, young lady?”

I turn and the young teacher almost jumps too when she sees my face.  She knows that I’m that girl.  I say nothing to her.  I owe her no explanation.  I duck around her and leave the room, taking the emergency exit into the breezeway between the buildings of the school, lean my head against an ancient brick column and welcome the fresh air.  I don’t know if I’ll ever go back inside.


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