If there’s one thing that writers never give advice on, it would be the setting. That’s probably because it isn’t that hard to do. But yet, I find myself giving awkward descriptions of stores and restaurants. So to save you from the same tragic fate, I will share all that I know.
1. Less is more
When I first started writing, third grade me though you described everything. The reader apparently needed to know the colour of the chairs to the amount of desks in the room and every single students physical appearance. No no no.
Don’t become like an old classic book where they give you the backstory to all the objects in the room. People in the 1900s might be interested but in the twenty-first century people will swap your book for their phone if you rattle on about a clock for two pages. Less is more.
Give a brief description of the room and keep it simple. Compare these two examples.
The small living room held a small cream couch with a stack of yellowed newspaper overtaking the side table. The windows on the opposite wall only got washed when it rained. There was a stained rug on the floor, faded from years of pacing. A couple of cushions were thrown into a corner next to the flickering floor lamp.
In the small living room, there was a couch that had been torn up from the family’s cat, Paws. A couple of patterned cushions were thrown to the side. On the opposite, there was a bunch of windows, dirty and full of dust bunnies. There was a big rug on the floor, covering most of the space, and it was covered in stains and dusty footprints. A floor lamp in the corner glowed yellow, it’s lightbulb flickering and dying. A big clock was on the brick wall, long since dead. Lots of family pictures on a side table were covered by a towering stack of old newspapers.
Tell me which one is better. Personally, I think the first one is; you can see it all in your head without being overwhelmed.
2. Big to small
A good tip is to go from the biggest things in the room to the smaller details. So from room colour to bed location to dead body on the floor to the snapped pearl necklace.
It flows nicely and zooms into the finer things.
3. Use all five senses
When describing things, I tend to forget my other four senses. I typically rely on sight, neglecting smell, touch, hear, and taste. And while you can’t taste the room, there is plenty of things to touch and hear.
Instead of using only sight to tell the story, immerse your reader. What does the hot dog stand smell like? Is the cave wall rough or smooth, wet or dry? Can you hear the laugh track through the thin walls of your bedroom? Using those things helps the reader envision the scene and get more hooked.
4. Reference photos
I don’t think everyone in the world has been in a castle or the cold dungeon in Mongolia. So instead of assuming what it looks like, google it. Pinterest has plenty of reference photos you can use. Browse real estate websites to get a feel of what a rancher’s home would look like.
There are thousands of resources at your fingertips, so use them.
It all comes down to when to describe your scene and when not too. Would you start off describing the room when a character enters it? That all depends on what is going to happen.
If you’re going to start the scene with action, the boy running away from the murderer through the school hallways, the chances of you spending a paragraph or two describing the place, are slim. That breaks the flow of the scene.
But the character is just introduced to a problem, say they’re kidnapped and wake up in a log cabin, then I think a little description is needed. The readers know what a school hallway looks like, the empty cabin not as much.
If you’re struggling when to describe your setting, ask yourself this: Will it break the flow of the scene?
That my friends, are a handful of tips that can help you out with writing. If you have anymore to add, let me know. I’d love to hear your advice.
As always, have a lovely day and see you next time.