Settings are so fun. This is when our imaginations get to work overtime and build our worlds. These worlds are amazing, but sometimes they need some help.
This post is where I’ll talk about one of the most important things you learn about in a creative writing course: concrete sensory details. And I get to do some creative writing while coming up with examples for you!
Concrete sensory details focus on telling the reader about the setting by placing them inside of it. You can describe a room physically like this:
Three long couches surround a coffee table that was placed on top of a red rug. The curtains were pulled closed on the people sitting on the couches. A tea service was left abandoned on the coffee table as I walked in and everyone looked up at me. The dark walls made it hard to see the faces of the people under their cloaks.
But that can be hard to picture because most people don’t walk into a room and notice the furniture first and memorize where it’s placed and what colour the rug is. Instead, the senses (taste, touch, hearing, smell, and sight) are used to bring the room to life:
The musty air overtook my nostrils when I opened the door. This room hadn’t seen sunlight in years, judging by the dust covering the curtains on all the windows. The cloaked people set down their teacups and saucers with soft clinks when they saw me. I walked forward onto the rug, feeling it’s bounciness beneath my feet. They have abandoned this room long ago–it made it the perfect place to meet.
So, we use the senses to make the setting concrete to the reader. It brings the world to life. Keep in mind, however, that too many of these details at once can slow down the story. As useful as this tactic can be, this might bore the reader. Pick the most important details, sensory and physical, and trust that your reader and their imagination can fill in the rest (fanfiction proves that this is true). I didn’t even mention the couches or the coffee table in the second example, but I’m sure that at least a few of you could see the setup.
Now the settings themselves. It’s important for you to know at least some basic things about your world before writing in it. First: is it our world or a fictional one? If it’s our world, what time? If it isn’t ours, what is this world like? Is it a classic fantasy world full of elves and dragons, or is it in the depths of space? Something else? Once you’ve answered the big picture questions, you can move onto things like governments, jobs, and how daily life functions. After that, focus on your own character(s) specifically. How does this world affect them? How do they affect their world? What is their daily life like? Do they have ties to the government/power structure? Do they despise it?
It’s easier to see how answering these questions can help lead you into the plot. (I just read that last paragraph back, and that was so many questions. Sorry.)
Once you have the structure laid out, individual settings will become apparent naturally: your character’s home(s), their place of work, how they acquire food and necessities, where they hand out, their friends’ homes, and even smaller places. I know it sounds like a lot, but you’ll find small, unique things to make these places stand out from each other, however briefly they exist in your story. The most common way to do this is with concrete sensory details and the characterization of the people who live in or frequent those locations. The way we decorate our rooms can tell so many things about us.
Your settings will also evolve during your plotting and writing. Don’t be afraid to leave your descriptions barer and come back to fill in the important details later. I truly believe that the process is up to the writer and story, so write your settings the way they make sense to you. Planning a story and everything that comes with it may be very stressful but always allow room for some fun.
Thank you for tuning into this fourth post in the Creative Write with Me series! The next post, all about Point of View. I had so much fun writing the examples for this post, I can’t wait to share more with you in the next one!
Leave a Reply