By A. Gavazzoni – author of Behind The Door and Lara’s Journal
Once when I was trying to paint, a friend gave me a bit of advice: Stop guessing what to add to your painting, and add exactly what you see and feel about the image.
Great advice, which I am now passing on to you. If you have a picture, do just that—describe the images, and then add feelings. Let’s use this picture…
What you see? I see a carpeted floor, a double bed, two windows, a night table, and a fan. If I write what I see, I’ll end up with something like this:
The room had carpet on the floor, a double bed, a night table, two windows, and a fan.
Is that good? No… not really. So here is where your character’s feelings, senses, and perceptions about the place will help you work magic with description. Compare the previous description to this one.
“Candy stepped inside the bedroom, and her mouth fell open in awe. This room was easily as big as her studio apartment back home. Her bare feet sank an inch deep into the thick and luxurious, wall-to-wall, cream-colored carpeting. She paused a moment to wiggle her toes and enjoy the softness. Across from her, sunshine streamed in through two floor-to-ceiling windows. The light softened the green colored walls and created shimmering shadows on the floor. Although the décor was sparse and very modern, Candy could picture herself getting cozy beneath the covers in the simple, platform bed, turning on the bedside lamp, and reading a book…or maybe just gazing out at that incredible view. She could just imagine what the city skyline would look like, all lit up at night. Above the bed hung a picture depicting a moss-covered trail leading through a lush, green forest. The image reminded her of the woods near her parents’ house, where she’d grown up, and she thought it rather odd to find a picture such as this one in a penthouse apartment overlooking the city. She shrugged. Maybe the person who’d decorated the room had come from a similar background as Candy, although she didn’t think so. She couldn’t see the debonair Dane Little ever having lived in a small town in the mountains of Kentucky!
If you don’t have a picture, use your imagination, and create a description that will allow your readers to learn more about your character(s). By using the character’s senses (sight, smell, touch, etc.) and having the character interact with their environment (as Candy did, above, when she wiggled her toes), you can bring in descriptions of the setting in a way that both shows readers more about your character and allows readers to “see” the character’s surroundings.
The setting should play a role in the story—not just read like a laundry list of items sitting there, inert. If someone else other than Candy had walked into the room above, the description might read differently because different characters notice different things. Imagine, for example, a man…he grew up in the city, surrounded by wealth and luxury. What would he notice first? Would the thick carpeting make an impression on him? Would he turn his nose up at the “rustic” picture hanging above the bed? Would he think the whole room too small, too austere? Would he frown at the lack of luxury…think the bed too tiny for his six-foot-four height?
In closing, it’s really very simple to incorporate setting into your story. Just put yourself inside your character’s mind, take into consideration your character’s background, likes and dislikes, and even current mood (someone who is in a bad mood would probably notice less details than someone who is happy or excited to be there). And then describe, based on what your character would notice and how they would feel about what they see—and don’t forget to incorporate a few of the five senses. Smell, touch, etc.—these will help bring the setting to life.
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