Don’t bore me with your story setting

Your story setting is almost as important as the main character, but a good story setting is so difficult to write. Too much or too little detail can put a reader straight to sleep. This post lists some techniques to maintain your reader’s interest.

Create a tingly feeling

Your readers should be able to see what you’re trying to describe. That crap sounds easy until you realize that the world trapped inside of your head is only visible to you.

When I first started writing Barcode: Legend of Apollo, my editor emphasized how lost she felt. She thought that my story was well developed, but she had no idea what was happening. I didn’t create a world that she could visualize.

After 30,000 words of descriptive language (yes, that many) she could finally connect to the story.

Using imagery is the best way to get your reader into the story. Can they see, taste, touch, smell, or hear what you do? I don’t care what anyone says. The best writing touches all of the senses.

How do you tingle your reader without being sued for harassment? You have to make them connect with your world. It should excite memories that they already have.

Stimulate prior knowledge

A reader’s prior knowledge is what they come in knowing already. If your story setting stimulates an experience that they have, you win.

This means that knowing your audience is important in your descriptive language.

Example 1 (For a middle aged sci-fi fan)

It was only a room. I now lived in an eight by eight, cramped space. The one, skimpy window was pitiful in its nature, but it gave me some insight to my new world. Just outside were people piled on top of one another. Their musk and filth seeped through the crack in the upper right corner of the glass. I eventually resorted to covering the crack with tape to avoid the urge to vomit whenever I looked out at them.

They were like crabs, each trying to escape the ashes, which stained their clothes and their cheeks. But every day these crabs returned to clamor at this very spot.

It was only a room, but it separated me from them. My eight by eight chamber that made me rich and them cursed.

Example 2 (For a teenaged or younger sci-fi fan)

Who makes windows this small? It has to be the size of the average chemistry textbook, but what’s the point? It lets in little to no light in my room and it shows one view all day long.

No. It’s not the sun or some towering skyscraper. All I see are people, shuffling through the streets. The lucky ones push shopping carts, flaunting their wealth. The others fight to have their feet crushed by those that can afford shoes.

It’s sad to watch, but worse to smell. There’s a crack in my tiny window, and that tiny space lets in so much funk. It’s about as pleasant as a rotted baby diaper–four days old and still going strong.

Your description shouldn’t be pointless. Don’t describe settings just to have them there. They should direct the story.

Use personality to describe your story setting

Finally, add a bit of life to your settings. In the example above, you can see that I write to keep different readers engaged based on my personality type. Both examples show that I’m quirky in one way or another. They connect to my writing style and not something I see in others.

What is unique about you? How can you use that to create?

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