Setting: It’s All in the Details

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Creating a setting that will allow your readers to dive into your fictional world is one of the strongest tools a writer can employ. Here are some tips if you feel like your settings need a little more detail.

Go Deep

Your settings should add depth and meaning to your story. Details can tie into themes, act as foreshadowing, and create tension. I like to think that a well-detailed setting is another character in the story and should get as much play as a character.

Look at the times in your life when a setting or detail was especially poignant. If you’re being proposed to, you may notice the ring, your new fiancé, the weather—but you probably won’t count how many ducks are in the pond next to you. Don’t make your readers count ducks, but give them enough to feel like they’re really there with you on the shore. They’ll provide the imaginary ducks.

Be One With Your Characters

As your characters move through the story, they will often give you, the writer, an idea of what you need to describe. What is important to their story? How much of their location do you need to tell the reader about? Are their clothes really important?

Be wary of points of perspective and the details you allow the reader to see, hear, taste and smell. If you’re creating a story from the limited first-person point of view, you should only allow details that particular character can see. If you give a detail that the character isn’t experiencing, you’re breaking the limited first-person point of view contract. If you break the rules, be aware of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Remember there are five senses. If this seems elementary, it should. But so many settings could be improved by adding what the place or person smells like.

Don’t Overdo It

As important as it is to give detail to your world, it’s equally as important to know when you should stop writing. There is such a thing as giving too much detail. A good writer doesn’t hold their readers’ hands through every minute detail in a scene. Let the reader do some of the work. After all, the play is acting out in their minds—too much detail will take away from their creative experience.

Think about your favorite movies and parts of the setting that are highlighted in the scene. Not everything gets a close-up. What does? Details that matter to the story. View your story as a film and guide your readers to the things that matter while leaving unimportant details in the background.

If you feel as though your settings are lacking, go outside and sit down. Describe your surroundings until you feel like you’ve captured them. Go to a shopping mall or coffee shop and write down the most important details. Practice makes perfect!

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About Author

John Paul Schmidt is a former news journalist. Now he's a freelancer by day and bartender by night while he works on his novel.


  1. Thank you for the tip. I’ll get more deep into my stories from now on. I would like to know more, if that’s okay.

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