So, I’ve noticed something of my writing as I’ve been editing it. I have a chronic lack of detail of locations and settings. That is a writer no-no. How is a reader suppose to visualize the character’s surroundings if they have no hint of it’s appearance? Plus, with no description or detail, the places are flat, one-dimensional, or entirely nonexistent. The novel’s whole world is imaginary, apparently. I got so frustrated with this that, for the first time, I got angry with my work and wanted to throw it against a wall. Today, I figured out a practical method to help with this problem.
You know how they say to outline the plot and write out character sketches? Unless you really know what you’re doing when you begin a book (which isn’t really common), it’s wise to do this. I can’t tell you how much this helps when i’m writing a book. During my first draft I had the plot outline open next to me the whole time, and frequently flipped to my character sketches, often to just keep myself familiar with these people and not lose their identities. Well, you should do this for your locations too.
- List out all the major and significant locations in your novel, from beginning to end. If there is a location within a general location, make them separate items.
- Begin with number 1. For every item, ask these five questions:
- What does it look like?
- What does it smell like?
- What does it sound like?
- What does it feel like?
- What does it taste like?
As you can see, they cover the five senses.
3. Answer the questions, whether in complete or incomplete sentences (however you prefer). For look, visually describe the place. For smell, sound, and touch, list descriptive adjectives and physical nouns, such as, “it smells musty; like grungy boots”, or, “it sounds like birds chirping; pleasantly quiet.” For taste, list food items as well as adjectives; “it tastes like lemons; sour.” Imagine what kind of food would be commonly present in that place.
4. Compare the location to real world places. This village makes me think of a rural English cottage village; This waterfall is similar to Niagara. Or, if the real world alternative doesn’t exist, compare it to famous fictional locations. This castle is similar to Narnia’s Cair Paravel; Those underground sewers make me think of the underground world of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Just make sure you don’t entirely copy. It’s for inspiration.
5. Research and print out images of these places so you have a visual reference for your special location. This will help during writing so that you don’t have to pause and try to remember how this place is laid out.
6. If you’re a good artist, you have the freedom of drawing out the place. If you’re like me, a terrible artist, still map out the place so that you’re aware of the twists and turns, crevices, and general layout. It would look bad if in your book the market is originally on the right side of the town, and then a few pages later it magically moves to the left side.
Those five senses questions will help majorly later on when you’re trying to figure how to describe the place and which details to give it. Description and detail are very important. They’re like the icing and decorations on a cake. Who would want to just eat a boring, plain cake? Your story is something to be enjoyed and savored. Make it so the reader wants more.