Painting a Picture with Words

One beautiful thing about writing fiction is how it lets you unfold your imagination. What you visualize inside your head, you can scribble down on page after page to share with others. Bringing a fictional world filled with interesting characters and unique settings to life is so much fun.

Settings, in particular, play a huge role in how a plot evolves or progresses. A setting also influences how characters act and react within the context of the story.

Going into Detail

Settings play an important role in genre fiction. A good setting can offer foreshadowing and give a reader clues for what to expect as the story progresses. The setting itself almost functions as a character through sights, sounds, smells, and tastes characters experience within that environment.

Certain settings are tied closely to specific genres. An old, dark house on a stormy night signals the beginnings of a ghost story or a murder mystery. A weathered spaceship with scorch marks from laser blasts adorning interior walls portends a space opera unfolding. How you choose to describe these settings influences tone and atmosphere for the action that unfolds in subsequent chapters.

Settings should include enough detail to allow a reader to see the place without really being physically present. Think of how you would describe a room to a blind person. What details would you focus on that best characterized the room? That’s the approach to take when creating your setting. Your readers, in essence, are blind people counting on you to describe the room so they can see the place without their eyes.

Avoid Overkill

There’s such a thing as including too much description. Some authors approach their novels as if they are getting paid a princely sum per word. They spend page after page breaking down the smallest details in each scene before moving forward.

I personally detest this approach to writing. Flowery purple prose does not make a story better. Spewing word vomit all over the page does not enhance a setting. A scene almost always works better when the setting stays in the background and the focus remains fixed on characters and plot.

The approach I take in all my stories is to only touch on enough detail to paint broad strokes of an intricate picture. I prefer to let my readers fill in the finer details with their imaginations. It becomes a more rewarding experience when I invite them to be my creative partners in building a fictional world instead of spoon-feeding everything to them like a toddler. Reviews of my books from Pandora Reborn to Alien People offer plenty of evidence for how much readers appreciate this approach.

Ultimately, an author needs to strike a balance with painting a verbal picture. A setting should be detailed enough to feel alive and real, but not so detailed that it overwhelms the rest of the story.