It seems like one of the most-often-given critiques of writing is that the reader “just wasn’t there.”  It can be hard to give a clear setting.  Sometimes, the image is there in your head and just won’t translate into words on a page.  Here are a few tips that will help you to spice up your setting:

  1. Do a little research.  Maybe all you need is to look at a photograph to give you a clearer picture of where your story is taking place.  Know your setting inside and out.  If the writer isn’t clear on what he is trying to portray, generally the reader won’t be either.
  2. Envision yourself there.  Ask yourself questions about what you might see, hear, or even smell.  Are you in a city or the wilderness?  If it is a city, are the people rich or poor?  Are the houses decrepit, well-kept, new, or old?  Is this place loud and busy or quiet?  What would this place smell like?
  3. Choose details to emphasize that will heighten the tension of your story.  Is there something about the setting that annoys your characters or makes them feel at home?
  4. Use descriptive words.  Rather than “rich,” you might use “gaudy,” or you might use “German shepherd” instead of “dog.”
  5. As always, show; don’t tell.  If your setting is in a Minnesota winter, describe the ice, the snow, and the wind that nips at people’s faces.
  6. Don’t get bogged down by the little details.  Unless one of your major characters is a taxi driver, describing what’s hanging from the rearview mirror of the cab that’s parked on the side of the street probably isn’t too important.
  7. Keep the story moving.  Perhaps reveal setting as a character moves through it or as a character observes an event taking place there.
  8. Reread.  Once you have a setting, look it over.  Can you condense?  Do you have more questions that need to be answered?
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