Hey, readers. Welcome back! In this post, I want to provide you with the tools and insight that you will need to create realistic scenes in your novels. In the past, authors had to rely solely on their imaginations or experiences to create detailed scenes that would draw their readers into their stories, but that’s no longer the case. Let’s get started by answering a couple of related questions.
Why is the setting so important?
While it is the underlying story that matters, the way you describe your settings greatly impacts your readers’ experience. Yes, they are reading text in a book or on a screen, but you want them to be able to visualize the places that you take them to the point that they feel like they are right there with your protagonist. We perceive the world through our senses and you should strive to ignite all five of them – touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste.
Detailed and descriptive scenes allow your readers to immerse themselves in your story. They become a part of it as if they are experiencing it firsthand. Consider describing a basement where a crime takes place. If all you offer is that it is a dark room, you’ll leave them wanting for more. However, if you provide them with a few details to ignite their senses, you’ll transport them to the scene of the crime.
Let’s look at a quick example:
“Head spinning, Chastity opened her eyes. What she saw sent chills up her spine. With only the light of the moon shining through the small windows, she could see that she was sitting on the cold concrete floor of a dank basement. The air smelled of musk and decay. Trying to move, she realized that she was chained to a support beam at the center of the dark room. With shadows lurking in every corner, she wasn’t sure that she was alone. Above her, she could hear the floorboards creaking as someone made their way to the cellar door.”
Now, let’s look at the alternative:
“The girl woke up in a basement with no idea how she had gotten there. Chained to pole, she tried to make sense of it.”
Which of the two would entice you to keep reading?
Can the setting lend credibility to my book?
Absolutely! Readers appreciate being able to relate to the settings in your story and they appreciate it even more when they can see that you have clearly done your research. If your description of a scene that takes place on a cruise ship doesn’t align with their personal experience, then you might lose them. If something takes place in a location that they have visited and things don’t line up, then you might lose them.
Mixing a bit of reality into your fiction lends credibility to your work. At the same time, inconsistency can make your work look implausible if not blatantly erroneous. This is yet another reason why your settings are so important. Imagine what a reader might think if you were describing a scene where your protagonist is sitting by the window of a cafe in London looking out at The Eiffel Tower. It wouldn’t make any sense.
Now that we’ve established the value of creating realistic settings for your scenes, let’s discuss some techniques on how to accomplish that.
Below, I will list five ways that you can create vivid and realistic settings for your scenes:
One: Personal Experience
No website can offer you more insight than your own personal experiences! Write about what you know. For example, if you have never been to Scotland, then you probably shouldn’t center your story around Edinburgh. Likewise, if you’ve never been to a rave, then don’t try to describe a scene that plays out at one. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and we’ll get to them, but it’s a good rule to follow in general.
Street names, landmarks, hotels, and even restaurants are public domain. Unless you intend to slander a business, you can use them without the worry of legal ramifications. This is a powerful tool for describing a scene because it gives your reader a way to personally connect with the story. Who hasn’t enjoyed a cup of coffee at a Starbucks, strolled along a boardwalk, heard of the famous Route 66, or dined at an Olive Garden? Use this to your advantage. If your scene takes place at a restaurant in Texas, consider making it a steakhouse. If it plays out at a trendy club near the ocean, consider one of the popular bars in South Beach.
Either based on your personal experiences or research, you’ve determined the best location for your scene. Now, you need to describe it in engaging detail. You don’t want to go overboard here, but you do want it to be realistic. For example, you would not describe a New Orleans club as being located on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées as everyone knows that is one of the most famous streets in Paris. So, how do you merge realistic content with your fiction? The answer to that question is much less complicated than you might think.
In my humble opinion, the two most powerful tools that any author has at his disposal are Google Earth and Wikipedia. Let’s look at a quick example. Open Google Earth in a separate window and search for The Eiffel Tower. Got it? Okay, so we’re going to write a scene that plays out at a restaurant with a great view of the famous landmark. Which one do we choose? Play around for a minute and have a look.
You’ve probably already found several options, but let’s focus on an incredible restaurant with an amazing view – Le Bistro Parisien. Go ahead and type it into the search engine on Google Earth for reference. Got it? Okay, good. By zooming in, you can see that it is located on the river Siene not far from The Eiffel Tower. Since this is the perfect spot for our scene, let’s find out more about the restaurant. A quick Google search will reveal images as well as the menu. Now, you have everything that you need to write a very realistic description of your setting.
Wikipedia is just as helpful. Let’s say that you’re looking to create a scene in one of the most remote towns in America. That’s great, but you need to be able to describe it. For reference, run a Google search on “Glasgow, Montana, Wiki.” Bam! You now have all the information that you need.
Details do matter, but they can be overwhelming and they can even take away from your story. Carefully select only the details that will best enhance your story and discard the others. If the event takes place at night, then describe the lighting. If the location is important, include the town or the name of the street. If the food matters, select something from the actual menu. If the ambiance is critical, then describe it in detail.
Diversify! Nothing bores a reader more than reading the same thing multiple times. Mix things up a bit. If you described the town, street, and architecture of the building in your last scene, then take a different approach this time around. For example, you might focus on the interior or the patrons. Think of it like a painting. You would be far less likely to purchase a canvas littered with identical circles than one that offered a wide variety of well-crafted images that somehow blended together.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope this article helps you to hone your craft. See you soon!