The Office/Supermarket Sadness

Open University – Start Writing Fiction

2 Setting

2.1 Setting as antagonist

Activity 16

Write one paragraph describing a place where you have worked. Describe how the people used their tools, machines or other equipment. Try to engage our senses, as shown in the Richard Yates’ example given in the ‘Setting for special effects’ section of item 5 in the Anthology.



If you stated the type of workplace – an office, hospital ward or canning factory – delete the information and see whether it’s still obvious. If not, rewrite the piece with a focus on the sounds, sights, smells and general atmosphere of the place.

THE OFFICE — “Finale” Episode 924/925 — Pictured: (l-r) Brian Baumgartner as Kevin Malone, Jake Lacy as Pete, Paul Lieberstein as Toby Flenderson, Angela Kinsey as Angela Martin, Phyllis Smith as Phyllis Vance, Craig Robinson as Darryl Philbin, Ellie Kemper as Erin Hannon, Kate Flannery as Meredith Palmer, Ed Helms as Andy Bernard, Leslie David Baker as Stanley Hudson — (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)

Down three flights of stairs, the lowest one the most precarious, is where it lies.  There’s a sign on the outer door classifying it as a storm shelter, but it is rarely used as such.  Beyond it, there is a sea of cubicles and flickering fluorescent lighting; an artificial chill in the air, despite the tropical temperatures outside the wall of glass.  People sit at their desks, in a state of almost-hallucination, eyes trained on the action on their computer screens.  Some working, others only pretending.  It’s mostly quiet, aside from the occasional burst of congenial laughter or scattered conversation.  Some look up from their screens longingly on pleasant days, eyes on the green expanse outside, longing for quitting time.

It’s not unique in appearance, there are rooms just like it across the country, but the general mood is one of hopefulness.  One created from years of good people working side by side, or cube by cube, day in and day out for many years.  There had been babies born, weddings celebrated, divorces mourned, promotions, retirements, disagreements and reconciliations.  It wasn’t the place, or company policy, or the sparse decor, but the people, that made the room special.  They knew there was a bond among them that transcended the ordinariness of the room, that would find them, no matter where they ended up.


Activity 17

Think about how mood and circumstances affect perception. In 250 words, describe a supermarket visited by a woman who has just received a promotion at work. 

For the first time in months, I feel like cooking.  I only feel like cooking when I’m excited or happy, otherwise it feels like a tedious, dull task, not to mention unnecessary, when there’s so much delicious take out a few mouse clicks away.  But tonight, with a fatter account balance waiting on me tomorrow, which just happened to be payday, I will cook.  First, a stop on the wine aisle, where I grab the best this snooty, high end grocery story has to offer, which still isn’t very good, but tonight, it will taste like a decades old bottle from a winery in the south of France.  Pasta, truffle oil, mushrooms, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, several cheeses, and bread are tossed in my basket in haste before I make my way to the registers.  Maybe I’ll invite the boyfriend over to celebrate with me.  Or maybe I’ll sit in my PJs and consume this scrumptious meal all by myself in front of the television, a satisfied smile on my face as I think about how my life is falling in order, finally.

Now, in another 250 words, write about the supermarket from the perspective of the same woman, who has just ended a love affair.

For the first time in months, I feel like cooking.  He and I always ate out.  He considers himself to be quite the foodie.  We had to try every well-reviewed restaurant in town.  He’d sneered at my provincial, suburban taste when it came to dining.  Just because I don’t mind a burger from Chili’s every once in a while doesn’t mean I’m some sort of philistine.  They have great burgers!  But he never let me forget that I “made” him eat there once.  He insisted on picking the restaurants from that point on.  Even on nights we didn’t spend together, I found myself ordering out instead of cooking.  I’m a great cook.  I KNOW that I’m a great cook.  Every friend, family member, and ex-boyfriend, except him, has raved about my cooking.  But I was so insecure after night after night of eating at five-star restaurants, whenever I thought of cooking it was almost like I could hear his voice in my head, telling me how much I sucked.  Well, not anymore.  I grab ingredients for my world famous lasagna.  Lots of veggies, tomatoes, cheeses, pasta, herbs, plus a great wine.  Make that several great wines.  I will call my girlfriends.  We will gorge ourselves.  We will drink too much.  And they will all tell me I’m too good for him.  Which I don’t really believe right now.  But I know, I know, that one day, I will.


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