Whether the setting of your story is integral to your world-building, or simply part of the background noise, your description of it can add color and life to the narrative. Rather than info dumping on your readers, you can deliver information about setting in dynamic and interesting ways. Here are some tips:
Create a vivid picture in your own mind first.
If you’re writing about a real place, do your research. Visit if you can. The opening scene in my first novel is set in the forest. My main character is living off the grid, hiding out in survival mode. I’ve hiked, backpacked, and camped extensively and therefore could use my own real experiences to bring that setting to life.
Even if a scene is set somewhere entirely made up, whether it be a room in an old Victorian mansion or a cabin on a starship, develop a clear picture in your own imagination before you write about it. If you have the details in clear in your mind, you can strategically sprinkle them into your narrative with authenticity.
Describe the setting using multiple senses.
Our first tendency is to describe things visually, and that’s great. We take in a lot of information through our sight – the pink hues of a sunrise, white-capped mountains against a vivid blue sky, glittering stars against the canvas of space. But it isn’t our only sense, and we can give readers powerful descriptions of setting using our other senses . For example:
- The sugary scent of cotton candy at the carnival
- The cold, smooth feel of a marble gravestone
- The salty taste of seawater as waves crash overhead
Engaging multiple senses gives the reader a varied, full experience of your setting.
Show your characters interacting with the setting.
The setting is only relevant as it relates to your characters or plot action. You can explore setting details by having characters interact with their surroundings. Here are a few examples:
- His claustrophobia kicked into high gear when they threw him into the tiny cell.
- Her bare feet danced over the hot sand on her way to the water’s edge.
- The ground under his feet vibrated with the sharp crack of thunder.
- The icy cold bit at the bare skin of her cheeks.
Use the setting to reveal information about your character.
A character in one of my books is a pilot. We learn a great deal about the setting in a particular scene when he’s forced to steal an experimental craft, maneuver it out of the hanger, cross a field, and get it into the air. As readers glimpse the town below from his birds-eye view, they also learn more about his skills and his risk-taking nature.
If your character is a doctor, readers can experience the hospital from her perspective in the OR. If he’s a botanist, we can join him while he explores the rain forest. You get the idea!
If you want to bring the setting of your story to life, give readers more than just the bare facts. They need to know why the setting matters to the story and see how your characters interact with it. With a little creativity and skill, we can give them a vivid, multi-sensory experience, and deliver important information about characters and plot.