A Pensive on Writing Place

Use the opening passages from these novels to inspire a piece of your own writing.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez starts in a village:

Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs.

Eleven-year-old Harrison is in a South London housing estate at the beginning of Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English

You could see blood. It was darker than you thought. It was all on the ground outside Chicken Joe’s. It just felt crazy.

In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred shares details of her room:

A chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath and in the centre of it a blank space, plastered over, like the place in a face where the eye has been taken out. There must have been a chandelier once. They’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to.

Here’s Elizabeth Bowen’s opening to The Death of the Heart:

That morning’s ice, no more than a brittle film, had cracked and was now floating in segments. These tapped together or, parting, left channels of dark water, down which swans in slow indignation swam.

Have fun using these quotes to create a sense of place in a new piece of writing.


  1. Debbie Hubbard

    Because the opening sentence(s) of a story –
    especially of a novel – have a huge job to do, this is really a challenging assignment, Gail. Well done on giving me something to chew on.

  2. OK. Here it comes:

    Create a sense of place…
    An attempt to riff on Margaret Atwood’s opening to The Handmaid’s Tale:

    The house was deserted. But there were dirty dishes in the sink and on the kitchen table. The garbage can was overflowing, spilling onto the floor. The clock had stopped at one o’clock. I wondered whether that was afternoon or late at night. The place had been empty for the past five years, they told me. That was when the previous tenants left. So long ago; yet the stench of death hung in the air as if it had happened just yesterday.

  3. ‘the stench of death hung in the air’ is a powerful line. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Who is Alexandr or is this a scam advertising post?
    I agree with Gail that ‘the stench of death hung in the air’ is a great image., on a par with Atwood’s “There must have been a chandelier once. They’ve removed anything you could tie a rope to.”

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