One of the loveliest elements of a great novel is to be carried away to a new place, to really live that place and time. That’s one of the reasons we all read. However, writers don’t place their stories in a mere setting, they create entire worlds. It’s actually one of the truly fun parts of writing, but it’s also tough.
How do you create a world that isn’t too vast, filled with boring descriptions, not detailed enough or full of irrelevant or gratuitous details?
Great writers make both vast and confined story worlds feel intimate and incredibly relevant to the characters. A specific character in a great novel just could not experience this story in any other possible place or time.
Can you imagine Harry Potter in any place other than Hogwarts? Or, Frodo any place other than Middle Earth? I can’t. Rowling and Tolkein so beautifully created their worlds that the characters live there, and we can’t possibly imagine them any other place or time!
The question is how, exactly, did they do that and, more importantly, how can you? I’m going to share a few strategies to help you out:
- First, research. Know all the details you possibly can about your story world. Research the time and the place. All of them won’t make it into your story, but it will allow you to convey the most important elements of it.
- Focus on those details of the place which have some sort of emotional impact on your main character. Those are the details that will develop both your character and your story world. If the scene’s setting does not play into the emotions of your characters, do you need to describe it in much detail? Probably not.
- Use the setting as a character. To do this, think about how your characters will interact with the setting, make it a part of every scene. Think about Hogwarts. Though it’s a place, it’s also an active character in each of the novels.
- Weave the descriptions of the story world throughout the action and dialogue. Nobody wants to read a full page description of a garden or city park, but if the description is woven throughout a chase scene, the reader can picture the scene without getting bogged down in pages of boring details.
- Create a multi-sensory experience. What does the setting smell like? Look like? Feel like? Sound like? Don’t just focus on what the character sees. Look around the room your are in right now. You are experiencing the place with all of your senses. Share that with your readers.
Go back to one of your scenes and see if you can tie in some details that impact your character in some way. How does it change the scene?
If you’re not sure how to do this, go back to some of your favorite story worlds and read through some chapters like a writer. Take some notes on how the author created them. What details did they use?
I’d love to hear in the comments below your favorite story worlds and the strategies your favorite authors used to build them.