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Description and setting
By Rachel Ann Nunes
Setting is separate from description. Yet, you can describe a setting, so
many of these tips are linked or shared.
Can you think of a story that would be completely different if in a different
setting? Think Robinson Crusoe and you can see how important a setting is.
Give a clear sense of place - where does the story take place? The more
removed from the experience of the reader, the more of both setting and
description you will have to write. Sci-fi vs. contemporary romance. My novel
A Greater Love takes place
in Portugal, and not many of my readers have been there. I had to clearly
set the scene and remind them about it throughout. (Same with a few of my
other novels.) Yet in my most recently published novel, it was enough to
say "Forbes Elementary School." My readers understand about American grade
What time of day is it?
What time period?
Try using an exotic setting like Terry Brooks, Michael Crichton, Robin
Cook, Jean Auel, and Jon Grisham. Readers love this! In my
Ariana series, I chose romantic France
as my setting.
Use all the sensessmell, taste, touch, hear, seeso that readers
can envision your setting.
Use omniscient descriptions only at the beginning of a chapter or during
one of the breaks in the chapter. Why? Because people like getting into one
character's head and seeing from his/her point of view (POV). Suddenly switching
to the author or narrators voice in mid-chapter or in mid-action will jar
the reader and remind him that it's only a novel. So you may use this omniscient
view to open a chapter, but once you are in a person's character, remain
in it. Don't switch to another mind until you've change chapters or made
a chapter break. (See the Point
of view and
Multiple points of
When it's necessary to switch back to an omniscient view, get back to
a main character as soon as possible.
Use research and factual details to enhance your settings. Don't go overboard!
Remember, this is fiction! Don't tell more than is necessary for your story.
Rarely do readers of fiction want to plow through pages and pages of history
to get the sense of the story. Tell what is necessary and feed in more bits
at a time. Don't inflict upon the reader every ounce of information you have
researched on the setting.
Setting (and description) can be interspersed with conversation. In my
novel, A Greater Love, the
flower lady is part of the setting, but the conversation shows the reader
rather than tells them.
The setting is almost always linked to the emotion of a character.
Use setting to set the mood of the entire scene or story. Is your story
happy? Sinister? Use an appropriate setting. If your character is in mourning,
putting him in the midst of a great party will not likely give us the sense
of his feeling. You could bring him into that party after you have set the
moodperhaps a visit to the graveyardto emphasize his loneliness.
This brings us to contrastwhich is also used in description. See
Use contrast. Two good examples are the
cooking chickens and the bug scene in my novel
A Greater Love. (This entire
book is a comparison of sortsthe wealth and security of the couple
versus the poverty and desperation of the children.) For another example,
think of a small, isolated house. Ask yourself, "What will make it seem more
isolated and small?" Would you choose a forest or a flat, empty prairie?
(Hint: obviously the prairie because it stands out in contrast to the huge,
As with setting, use all the sensessmell, taste, touch, hear,
seeso that readers can envision being in your character's shoes.
How does your character react to what he is experiencingremember,
find the emotion in the story. You can do this even with the setting.
Write simple and directly. If you get too fancy and long-winded, you will
interrupt the reader's experience with too much prose. Avoid unnecessary
Use short, powerful sentences.
Observe scenes/people around you.
Practice by writing at least thirty alternatives to saying it's cold.
Frost collected on the windowsill
Breath making clouds