3 Tips for Being Intentional with Setting & Description

3d interior render of empty white room with big windowAs I’ve said before, I’m not naturally good at description in my writing. It’s an area of weakness of mine, but since I’ve identified it as such, I can make intentional efforts to supercede that weakness.

1. I try to choose a location– or a location within a location– that lends itself to sensory detail. Instead of setting the scene in a regular old room, why not on the roof? Or in a church belltower? An abandoned greenhouse? A former-insane-asylum-turned-boarding-school? (My friends were creeped out by that one and steered me away from it. Ha!)

Figure one. I really believe this place is going to find its way into one of my stories one day.


2. I use photos, lots of photos, for reference. The internet is my friend: Pinterest, Tumblr, Google Images, We Heart It. I actually think people would be shocked to learn how much time I spend looking for images– but the pictures help me find the words.

Figure two. I’d have a hard time describing such a scene as below without the image.


3. I write the senses at the top of a document and go scene by scene, asking what the characters could see, hear, taste, smell, or touch in that particular scene. This sensory document for Truest ended up to be fourteen pages. Then, back through the manuscript to graft the details in so that readers don’t see the seams.

Figure three. The red means that I ended up using the detail.


Your turn, writers: what are your best tools for setting and description? Does it come naturally to you, or do you have to “fight for it” the way I do?

6 thoughts on “3 Tips for Being Intentional with Setting & Description

  1. This is SO helpful! For me, it depends on the scene–sometimes I can clearly see/feel/smell certain things in my mind’s eye and can put it down on paper, but then I have to fight to insert it naturally. Most of the time, though, sensory details needs to be grafted in later.

  2. I definitely have to see it. I have a private Pinterest board for my WIP as well as hundreds of images in Evernote notes and notebooks. But I spend the most time “casting” my characters. I’ve changed some characters’ ethnicities over time, and when I do, I can’t keep writing that character until I have a good, clear picture of what he or she looks like. Minor characters just come to me, but major characters need to be consistent scene to scene.

  3. Yes! Photographs…I set my story at the University that I attended. I went back to visit and took pictures of all the places on campus that I was using in the piece so I didn’t have to rely only on my memory. I also have photographs of my characters – they may be based on actors, musicians or people that I know. At the front of my master copy of the screenplay version of my story I have a photo gallery of the faces and places that will follow. 🙂 I love your idea of listing the sensory aspects of each scene’s environment. I will give that a try! Thank you for this post.

  4. Pingback: Truest vs. Yes Novel (untitled book #2) | Jackie Lea Sommers

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