Story setting is essential. It’s one of the elements that pulls readers into the story and places them there. Can you imagine what reading a story would be like if there wasn’t any description of the places in it? Flat, that’s what it would be….flat. I would cast it aside in a heartbeat.
How do we paint a picture of what we want our readers to see when they read your story? It really is up to the writer. I say this because we’re all different and have our own ways of doing things. So, take what you will from this post and make it yours. I like to create my settings in such a way, so that when someone reads it, it sounds natural. What I don’t want is for the action/story to stop so that I can describe something. Doing that takes away from the story. Note the two examples below.
Example 1: Laural stepped into the room with her bare feel. The room was white with plush carpet. White curtains hung on the windows and blew in the breeze. To the right of the window sat a small square table with a bright green tablecloth. In spite of the brightness of the room, she should have felt comforted, but no. There was an eeriness that made her feel uneasy. A lock of her blond hair fell forward and she moved to push it back. She stopped midway as she felt his finger along her cheek.
Example 2: Laural stepped into the white room. Now barefoot, she stepped onto the plush, white carpet. At one time this feeling would have comforted her, but today the cushion of the carpet only served to increase that eerie sensation twisting in her gut. White curtains billowed as the breeze from the open window whispered into the room. Again, a false sense of comfort played in her gut. It were as though the room was dark, not light. The only color in the room came from a plant sitting on a small square end table to the right of the open window. A single black rose stood dead center of a plant whose bright green heart shaped leaves came to thin tips. His calling card. A lock of blond hair pushed forward over her right shoulder. Moving her hand up to push it out of the way, she froze midway as his finger caressed her cheek. Her breath caught in her chest. She wanted to run, but her legs wouldn’t move.
“You look pale, my sweet,” he said.
In the first example the setting description does nothing to move the story along and it doesn’t create any kind of feeling either. We are told that Laural is feeling uneasy, but the description doesn’t heighten this feeling at all.
The second example combines description of the room with how Laural is feeling, which in turn goes along with the story.
When you’re writing, and get stuck on how to describe something, sit back and relax. Close your eyes and picture your setting or situation. Then, when you’re ready, describe it simply. When you’re done with that, embellish it to fit the story/scene. It takes practice.
When I was in the U.S. Navy Reserves back in 2005, I did my annual training on the USS Bohomme Richard LHD 6. At that time smart phones weren’t really a thing yet. A lot of my friends including myself had the flip phone and there was no camera on it. So, when I went on this AT, the ship sailed from San Diego, CA to Seattle WA. Since I didn’t have a camera on my cell phone, I had to take with me a couple of disposable cameras. Well, I really wish I had taken more of those cameras because I ended up running out of film. Here I was sitting on a park bench looking out over the bay in Seattle watching cruise ships and viewing the vast and majestic Mt. Rainier feeling the light breeze and enjoying a rare blue sky and sunshiny day, and I had no camera to capture it all. What did I do? I took my journal out and painted my own picture of it with words.
Think outside the box here. Do this your way. Free write this description and get down any and all words you can that describes everything you see and go back later and cut and change what you don’t want. On the other hand, you can slow down, breathe, enjoy the fresh salty air floating up off the water being carried by the breeze. Close your eyes, listen to the sounds, smell the scents and then take out your journal and pen/pencil and ‘paint’ your picture(s). You will be surprised at what your brain comes up with. These two methods are what works for me, but I much prefer the latter.
Keep this and all writings you have because they can be used later in a short story or a novel or two. Doing this also allows you to see how you’ve grown in your writing as time goes by. I recently went back to one of my journals in which I ‘took a picture with words’ and reread it. It was from a vacation I took with my husband and kids in 1997. As I was reading it my mind began making some mental changes to what I wrote that would make it better. My thought here? OMG I can use this in my next book. Oh the discovery of it all. Writing is truly fun.