...because fiction is our greatest escape from reality...

Want It To ‘Feel’ Real?


The setting is important.  In fact, without it, you have nothing but characters moving around in boring space.  Now, when I first write something, that’s pretty much all I get.  A little snappy dialogue if I’m lucky, an idea of what they look like and boring tags like smiled, nodded and smirked.  Not a lot of imagination in the beginning.

That’s okay. 

It’s necessary to get the idea down first.  You can always go back and layer.  That’s where the setting comes in.  In fact, I usually print a hard copy of my work several drafts in and layer atmosphere in last.  It gives your writing life.  I wouldn’t go crazy with long paragraphs of description, but a smart addition here and there does wonders.

There is an excellent chapter on this in Stephen King’s On Writing.  He breaks it down in simple terms.  You can also learn from experience and observation. 

Ever typed in a favorite author’s work?  Just typed it in to look at how it flows on a page?  I did this often over the years and I will still occasionally pull out a trusted favorite book and try it again.   As far as I’m concerned, there is always some new golden nugget of knowledge to learn from other writers. 

Good, atmospheric words are a definite necessity.  Descriptive words like lush, melancholic, nibble… oh, I could go on forever with words.  <g>  But trickle them in.  If your character is in bed, slip in an adjective about how soft or scratchy the sheets are.  Does the room smell clean?  Is the air cold or warm on exposed skin? 

Close your eyes, put yourself in that setting and imagine. 

In fact, it’s a good practice to find an intriguing image like the one above and just practice writing descriptions.  Don’t plan out a scene, only describe what you see.  Often, a story will evolve from doing this alone. 

Why don’t you try writing a description of the woods above?  I’m not asking you to post it here– just practice on your own if you want.  And if you want to post it here, I’m cool with that, too. 🙂


  1. January 17, 2007    

    Thanks for directing me to Wil’s blog. He’s a real talent.


    Slender pines growing through mist,
    the earth a blanket of brown, dead food.

  2. January 17, 2007    

    It’s a fantastic blog. He has a huge following and he updates sometimes twice a day. But it’s wonderful to connect with him as an adult after watching him as a kid for years on Star Trek TNG– I was so freaking addicted to that show, I watched it daily.

    And Heather, wow. Brown, dead food is freaking fantastic! What a different and unique way to view a forest image. I’m impressed. It’s that little something different that makes work stand apart. Yay!!!!!!

  3. January 17, 2007    

    Thanks, Rinda. You made my evening. 🙂

  4. January 17, 2007    

    Nice article. Setting is so important, and often overlooked. I agree with transcribing a familiar text to practice one’s writing. It is similar to when someone is learning to play the guitar. The first thing they do is learn how to play songs by their favorite artists which teaches mechanics, trains the ear, and develops muscle dexterity.

    Great advice.

  5. January 17, 2007    

    You keep sticking these bugs in my ear, I’ll never get anything done–

    Dark life stretched above his focus. The footing here was softly inconsistent and easy to lose traction against The forest leavings were difficult to escape like a warm bed with a new love. It drew his eyes downward while the years reached above him and branched out skyward. The sky was infiltrated by the swaying of the dark trees, and reached in as well. There was a battle ongoing overhead and underfoot and within Kyle’s mind, but Kyle was also worried about the dogs.

    The dogs and this goddamn forest hummus that slid away from his need for traction and softly awaited his fall. The trees had been laying this trap for years. These trees had had it out for him for a long time.

    Goddamn these trees, Kyle thought. They are gonna get me caught.

  6. January 18, 2007    

    Well, Scott, you could take this wonderful piece of writing, flesh it into something to submit. You set an intriguing scene in few words, so I hope you feel it was worth the time.

    Word Doctor, I actually meant to say typing up published work would teach you mechanics– thanks for bringing that up. I always wanted to learn to play guitar, but I played… the flute. We were in this commune in the Ozarks at the time and well, I think it was the only instrument my parents could afford. Or maybe I had Jethro Tull fantasies…who knows? Would have fit in with the commune.

  7. January 18, 2007    

    I was a first/second chair flautist, but I remember next to nothing about how to play.

    I’ve never typed in someone else’s work before. Sounds interesting. (Makes sense, too.)

  8. January 18, 2007    

    Oh, I complain, but in a good way, I hope…

    So much out there in the world to try…

    so little time…

  9. January 18, 2007    

    Hey, Jethro Tull rocks! Didn’t they win an award for best metal band a few years back? So you were a commune child, huh? I bet that has provided some fresh views on life, and writing in particular. Very cool.


  10. January 19, 2007    

    Only a couple of commune type experiences. But my family moved all over the place and we met an awful lot of interesting people.

    Scott, sometimes I wish for a way to stop time– without dying, of course.

    Heather, it’s great for getting down mechanics. I once worried I’d channel someone else’s style, but we’re probably channeling a lot of different styles, which in turn gives us our own.

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