Consider the World View

When describing your setting, consider who’s looking at it as well as what they see. For example, an ex-con is likely to view (and describe) a restaurant hosting a police officer’s retirement party differently than the daughter of the retiring officer. Take the point-of-view-character’s world view and personal judgment into consideration. What details would they specifically notice? How would they feel about what they see? What emotions or thoughts might those details trigger? This allows you to craft richer settings that reflect both the character, and the world they live in.


Set The Stage

Believe it or not, choosing the right setting is one of the most important decisions to make when planning a scene. The location can add mood, supply tension and conflict, steer the plot, characterize, foreshadow, and even provide a way to dribble in backstory. Going with the first thing that comes to mind is often easier but may rob the scene of added depth. Locations that are frequently used in books and film may also bore readers.

For your next important scene, make a list of twenty possible locations. Brainstorm some that have personal meaning to one or more characters as this can affect their emotional state in the scene. Play with weather elements, time, and the quality of light (and shadow) to further customize your setting. Challenge yourself to find the perfect fit and it will pay off by powering up the scene and offering readers a fresh experience.



Write a description of the room you are in from the point-of-view of a character in your work-in-progress. If the character is from another time or place, so much the better. What would the character notice first? What would she find odd? What would she love about the room? What would she dislike? Go beyond describing the physical space and capture her attitude about what she sees. Let her be snarky or wax poetical. Whatever captures her emotions about the space.


Mood Swings

I recommend starting this exercise with a travel magazine packed with lots of interesting photos. Select an image that appeals to you. Now, write a short scene from the viewpoint of a character who has just arrived at this location and is seeing it for the first time. Describe the setting through the character's eyes, paying particular attention to the mood that this image evokes in you. Evoke this mood in your readers through the reactions of the character — look for sensory images!

Now, write a second scene, with the same or a different character — and evoke just the OPPOSITE mood. If your castle seemed tranquil and romantic, set a scene in which the mood is menacing or sorrowful. If the image of that tropical beach made you feel relaxed and happy, create a scene in which, instead, it is causing your character to feel angry or anxious. Again, look for sensory details and impressions that will convince your reader and evoke that same mood through your words — regardless of what mood the picture alone might have evoked!


From The Ground Up

Choose a place you've never been to. (If you have a map, you can close your eyes and pick a random spot for an extra challenge!) Do some research and try to learn everything you can about that location and make it the setting for the next scene you write. Try to include as many details as possible to make it seem like you've actually been there. For example, what does it smell like? What kind of people would you see there? What is the climate like?


The Art of Description

A few well-chosen words can create a strong sense of place which adds a rich dimension to your story. It draws your reader right in, as if they were in the room with your characters.

Choose one of the following places and describe it using ALL of your five senses (touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing). In fiction, you won't usually use all five, but limbering up your storytelling this way will help you show rather than tell the story:

  1. A market in the South of France
  2. A teenage bedroom
  3. A pub
  4. A hairdresser's salon
  5. The souk in Marrakesh
  6. A stately home
  7. A garden

The Observant Writer

Elegant writers use their material with economy. If they write a scene that introduces a character, they might slip in many other things that are also important, whether it’s a detail about Character A’s birthday, Character A’s relationship with Character B, or the weather. In this exercise, write a paragraph of no more than 300 words and try to fit in ten subtle facts about your character into it, without being obvious about it.


Guess Where?

Good worldbuilding is when the author can bring a place to life for the reader. Using your powers of description, describe (in 2-3 paragraphs) a place or setting with which you’re familiar. Then show your work to somebody who knows the spot and see if they are able to guess it through your words.