Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
In school, we’re taught that a noun is a word that names a person, place, thing, quality, or idea. In a scene, a writer should connect each of these types of nouns to one another so that, together, they create a unified effect:
Person = Character
Place = Setting
Thing = Property (“Prop”) or Figure of Speech
Quality = Atmosphere or Emotion
Idea = Theme.
Here’s an example, courtesy of Bentley Little’s novel The Vanishing:
It was a muggy day in Manhattan [place], and Kirk [person] spent most of it in his apartment [place], sitting in his desk chair listening to the stack of CDs [thing] he’d bought the day before. But, by late afternoon, even he was tired of sitting on his ass. His mom had just returned from a two-week trip to France, and he’d promised to stop by and see her, so he took a shower, put on some clothes his parents wouldn’t find too offensive and made his way uptown to their building. He was happy [quality] to see his mother again. It was embarrassing [quality] to admit, but he’d missed her. Mama’s boy, he chided himself [idea].
This approach makes even a short paragraph seem as if it is telling a story. Little uses this technique frequently in the course of his novels, the scenes reading like anecdotes, or miniature stories, which serve other such purposes as characterizing his characters, developing atmosphere, expressing mood, developing conflict, locating action, and expressing themes, while, at the same time, both individually and collectively, they move the greater narrative forward. It’s a sound approach, built upon connecting words that refer to persons, places, things, qualities, and ideas.