How to Craft Immersive Setting Descriptions
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Writer, it’s time to give life to your story!
One of the most powerful ways to breath life into the pages of your book is to immerse readers in your story world, specifically through crafting lush, evocative descriptions of your story’s settings. But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
In today’s article, we’re going to cover how to choose the most impactful settings for each of your story’s scenes, as well as my top tips for bringing those settings to life via immersive descriptive writing. Sound good? Let’s dive in!
Have you chosen strong scene settings?
Oftentimes, the settings in which our scenes take place are deeply intertwined with what is happening in the narrative, so selecting the best place to set many of our scenes may not be that difficult. However, some scenes in your story will likely be less location-dependent, giving you a range of options in which to set them.
In any case, the settings in which your scenes take place shouldn’t be chosen or described without proper thought and care. Every last setting in your novel has the potential to be so much more than a simple backdrop. Settings can easily:
Set a mood.
Give depth and context to a story-world.
Amplify the conflict or tension in a scene.
Reveal elements of characterization.
Deepen the story’s themes.
Ensuring that each of your story’s settings fulfills one or more of these key purposes sets the foundation for immersive descriptions. After all, pretty words without purpose are pretty worthless, right? (Now try saying that five times fast!)
When choosing or strengthening your scene settings, consider both what is happening in the scene and which character will serve as the point-of-view. Then ask yourself how you can manipulate the setting to set the tone you want readers’ to experience, while also fulfilling the needs of the scene’s events and amplifying the emotions your POV character will undergo.
That’s certainly a lot to think about, I know. But as we said, taking the time to shore up your setting’s foundations will go a long way toward immersing readers in your story.
My Top Tips for Writing Immersive Descriptions
Now that we’ve discussed how to select scene settings that have purpose and power, it’s time to talk all about how to bring them to life on the page.
How you choose to write about your settings will likely be influenced by both the genre of your story and your personal writing style. However, here are some of my top tips for writing immersive setting descriptions that I believe apply to most situations:
#1: Get inside your character’s head.
A character’s worldview, life experiences, and personality heavily influence how they engage with the world around them.
If you’re writing your story in Deep POV, meaning the reader experiences the story’s events through the eyes of a point-of-view character, take pains to craft setting descriptions that speak to how your POV character would experience and engage with their surroundings.
#2: Utilize sensory details.
Touch, taste, sound, sight, smell. Our worlds are vibrant with sensory input, and your characters’ worlds should be as well.
With your POV character in mind, work to include key sensory details in your descriptive writing. You don’t need to include every sense within a scene, but touching on some of the most impactful at any given moment can go a long way toward breathing life onto the pages of your book.
#3: Engage with the setting.
It can be expedient to dump the description of your setting into one easy paragraph, but info-dumps are resented for a reason. To avoid pulling your readers out of the narrative, consider once again how your POV character interacts with the world around them.
Describe how their nose wrinkles as the sharp smell of vinegar fills the air or how their body sighs into the warm embrace of their bed. By sprinkling similar descriptive elements throughout each scene, you’ll create touchstones that keep readers immersed in your setting.
#4: Choose Impactful Details.
In addition to writing from your character’s point-of-view, don’t forget to focus on elements that fulfill one or more of the purposes we discussed earlier: setting a mood, giving depth and context to a story-world, amplifying conflict or tension, revealing characterization, or deepening your story’s themes.
Consider what you are trying to accomplish in your scene, then describe elements that will help you achieve those ends. For example, if you’re writing a sword-fight, you’ll likely want to focus on elements that amplify tension, such as the skittering of loose stones underfoot or the whiz of a blade as it slices through the air.
#5: Avoid clichés.
Descriptive writing can be rife with overused phrases, but your settings themselves can also be cliché. After all, how many times have we read about a funeral taking place on a rainy day?
When writing descriptions, consider how you can avoid or put a fresh spin on old clichés and tropes. For example, oppressive humidity could represent the overbearing shadow of death in your funeral scene, whereas a driving wind could symbolize the chaos of grief.
#6: Favor brevity and power.
Descriptions are notorious for their flowery, elaborate prose that does more to make readers roll their eyes than find themselves lost in the story-world. When writing setting descriptions, always err on the side of brevity, making strong, simple word choices that evoke a particular tone.
Take, for example, the following sentence: “The soft warm amber glow of the candlelight shimmered through the room, sending rapid, tantalizing chills down her spine.”
This description is both filled with unnecessary adjectives and vague in its purpose. Chills are often associated with uncomfortable or frightening situations, which contrasts the warm and pleasant atmosphere of the candlelight. Therefore, is the character afraid or pleased?
A more powerful and immersive version of this description might read as such: “Warm candlelight filled the room, whispering of promise, alighting her senses.”
#7: Think like a filmmaker.
With the rise of cinema, written fiction transformed from a narrator-driven tradition into a more “visual” style of storytelling that most frequently makes use of Deep POV to place readers directly in the story.
Because of this, thinking like a filmmaker when crafting and framing your scenes can go a long way toward bringing your settings to life for readers. For more information and a detailed guide to writing description with filmmaking in mind, check out this article on the blog.
Writing excellent setting descriptions doesn’t come naturally to most. As you can see from the top tips I’ve shared here today, there’s much to consider and put into practice when breathing life into your story’s settings.
Fortunately, these tips and techniques do become easier to apply as you begin using them. While your effort to craft exceptional settings should always be consciously done, your descriptive writing will indeed grow more natural with a little time and patience. So stick with it, writer. You’ll immerse readers in your story in no time!