No More Sappy Sunsets

I’ve been accused (well, criticized) for plopping my characters down in empty white spaces. They could be anywhere. Do more with the setting, I’m told.

Then another reader asked if I was being paid by the word. “Do you really need to describe all that?”


What to do? How to find that happy medium of creating a setting that functions almost like another character in the story, whose details add to the mood and make the reader feel like they’ve been there. Or like they want to go there (even if it is a scary place).

So I went back into my reading list and dug up some articles I’ve found helpful in the past.

Here are four of the best:

The Difference Between Good World building and Great World building

What’s great about this post is it offers a different twist: it’s not what the character sees, but what he or she doesn’t see. In other words, show the reader what the character is missing. The reader knows the evil is coming, the character doesn’t see the signs.

Description—How to Make Readers Fall In & Never Escape

The main point I got from this post is the key is to tie the description to some kind of emotion. Which makes sense to me.

I don’t need to go into sappy raptures describing the sunset, but instead, should think about who is observing it. A bride on her honeymoon will see the sunset differently than a grieving widow or a man plotting a murder.

Reading a description of a room is dull. That the character observing it thinks it’s tacky is more interesting. That the character has the sense that something evil happened there once is intriguing.

This post is packed with great examples, which helped me see the difference.

Making the Most of Your Setting

This post concentrates on showing the setting through the point of view character’s eyes. Instead of talking about the plants, have the character comment on them, that they are beautiful or ugly or frightening. Or whatever.

7 Setting Basics that Can Bring a Story to Life

This post gives basic tips that are good reminders for how to weave in the setting details.

The main take away from all of these posts is that I don’t want my readers just to see the setting. They need to feel it.

If the character is afraid, it’s because of the dark clouds or creaking floors. Or the lack of sound when she’s expecting to hear conversation.

No laundry lists are needed. Just the few details that help the reader sense the mood, and gain an idea of the kind of person the characters are, by learning what they observe (i.e., find important or note worthy) and how they feel about it.

So there’s a lot to think about in getting these little details in the right place, at the right time. But this is where the magic, the art of writing comes in.

Any one else know of some great pointers on creating setting?

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