How to Write a Compelling Setting

Merriam-Webster defines setting as “the time, place, and conditions in which the action of a book, movie, etc., takes place.” So what does that mean to a writer and how do they make a reader feel like they are in that setting? The best way is for the author to be in that setting as well. The writer must know the world they are creating. They must know not only what it looks like but also how all the senses interact with that setting to make it real. I recently took an online workshop that helped me to do just that.

Besides writing in active voice, the author must bring the senses to the setting. What do the characters themselves see, smell, taste, hear, and physically touch? Provide those details from the characters’ point-of-view. As the writer immerses himself or herself into the world they have created and elaborates on their characters’ reactions to the setting, the reader will follow. Of course if the author adds all those details at once it can become a long boring descriptive that will cause the reader to either skim the passage or skip it all together. It is best to sprinkle the setting throughout the actions. The same as one would include the back-story throughout the novel to slowly let the reader understand the motivation for the characters actions.

One of the easiest ways to create your world is by actually creating it. Use maps and photos of what your world looks like and make the senses come alive on the page of your novel. Describe the setting as the characters experience it without overloading the reader. If writing a contemporary, find photos of what the places are like and imagine all that the senses can take in by entering that place. Think of the actual location of the setting and find it on a map. Search weather sites for that area and use that information as well as learning the flora and fauna to incorporate it into the scenes that the characters are entering.

As any author knows, there is a lot to writing a good setting. People have written books about it and everyone has different approaches to finding the perfect setting for their novels. To make the setting believable an author may do a lot of research, but that doesn’t mean that it all has to be included. Only the information that will help the reader gain access to the setting and develop a better understanding of how the characters see their surroundings needs to be included. If the writer finds something really interesting during their research that they want to include, then they should find a way to incorporate it into the action of the characters in the setting. It will make it all the more realistic.

I hope that these little tips are helpful or even serve as a reminder. You don’t want to bore your readers with all that description! Happy Writing!


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