Keeping Your Settings Vivid

If there’s one thing I notice in many books I edit, it’s that authors often have trouble making their settings memorable; by this, I don't mean that their settings are unoriginal. I mean that mid-way through a chapter, my mind’s eye has replaced their setting with a void of non-description. So with that in mind, I’m putting together a new series for my blog, dedicated to helping writers put together vivid, realistic settings that their readers will remember.

First, what do I mean by setting? Well...

Setting is the place or type of surroundings where something is positioned or an event takes place.

This doesn't just include the location (bedroom, forest, courtyard, desert, etc.), it also includes what makes up that location. The little details and the objects. The culture and the nuances that make the place and the people unique. It includes all the things around your character.

In this post, I'll be going over 6 ways that you can incorporate details on your world, setting, and culture naturally into your story. These will be framed around the five narrative modes used to present information in fiction: description, dialogue, action, thoughts, and exposition.

Ps. Everything author used as an example in this post is a client of mine! (Or is just me.)


Setting and Description

The International Association of Professional Writers and Editors (IAPWE) says...

Description sets the mood and the scene and provides an explanation. It gives the details about some place, person or thing. It should serve the story and be a mechanism for immersing readers in the fictional world the characters inhabit.

Description is best told using a variety of the five senses and sparing use of metaphors and similes. Paragraphs of description can be used to describe new places, characters, and objects, or changes to any of those things.

To keep your story moving, avoid describing every little detail in a scene; show your reader what is needed to set the scene first⁠—after this, only show them what is relevant or what you want them remember or pay attention to.

Take this example from Faetal, a short story by Charlie Daniels.

The gray-and-white stone towers rise high into the blue sky, the building both beautiful and monstrous. Gargoyles and dragons line its rooftop, intimidating shadows ready to leap on unsuspecting victims. And yet the sun’s rays illuminate the carved marble pillars at the entrance, the reflective shards of mirrored glass embedded within sending streams of light across my skin as I approach.

This paragraph takes place on page one, making the opening to Daniels's story beautiful, magical, and perhaps a little intimidating. This description not only gives the reader a clear image of what the protagonist is looking at in the moment, but also what to expect from the story.

The above paragraph is followed by this one a little later:

I close my eyes and breathe in the soothing air filled with honeysuckle, wild berries, and a little pixie dust. Everything you'd expect from the land of the Fae; or maybe that last part is simply because the pixie in question has been trailing me since I left the Summerlands.

Here, we venture into the other senses. We get an impression of what the land smells like, which tells us that it is a fantasy world before the protagonist clarifies that fact.

When describing your scenes, it's important to vary your use of the senses to g