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This blog was featured on 05/11/2019
5 Ways to Describe Setting That Won't Bore Readers
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
May 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
May 2019

Setting descriptions are key when it comes to writing a book that readers can truly get into. Whether your story is set in a real-world scenario or a fantastical universe, here are some great examples of ways to describe setting that won’t bore readers.

Compare the items in your scene to everyday items people can easily visualize

Excerpt from Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

“The cinder-block walls in Jo’s dorm room were the pinkish-tan of a Band-Aid, and there was barely space for a twin bed, a dresser, and a desk with bookshelves above it. As she opened the door Jo was overwhelmingly aware of how small the space was; how close to Shelley she would be.”

“Jo opened the car door and stepped out into the darkness. She hadn’t worn her coat, and the wind off the water cut through the fabric of her dress. Cars sped by, cars with happy families inside of them, dads behind the wheel, moms with Saran-wrapped leftovers in their laps, little brothers, stuffed full of whipped cream and pie, in the back seat, next to teenage big sisters who’d close their eyes and dream about boys, the way girls were supposed to.”

Excerpt from The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

“The medieval villa dominated a deeply green, forested hillside. It looked like something in a confectioner’s shopwindow; a castle sculpted of caramel, with spun-sugar windows and shutters the color of candied apples. Far below, a deep blue lake absorbed the reflection of the clouds. Manicured gardens allowed the villa’s occupants—and, more important, their guests—to stroll about the grounds, where only acceptable topics were to be discussed.

“In the formal dining room, Isabelle Rossignol sat stiffly erect at the white-clothed table that easily accommodated twenty-four diners. Everything in this room was pale. Walls and floor and ceiling were all crafted of oyster-hued stone. The ceiling arched into a peak nearly twenty feet overhead. Sound was amplified in this cold room, as trapped as the occupants.”

Use color to give readers a clear visual

Excerpt from Those People by Louise Candlish

“The first clue that something was amiss that Friday evening was that the parking space outside his house was occupied by a filthy white Toyota so decrepit it was bordering on scrap. Certainly not the vehicle of choice of anyone he knew on Lowland Way.

“If you entered the street from the park end, as Ralph generally did when he drove home from his warehouse in Bermondsey, you proceeded along a sliding scale of house sizes—and prices—from pretty workmen’s cottages through narrow three-story terraces to the large detached Victorians at the Portsmouth Avenue end. These were indisputably the best properties, their old brick glowing furnace red in spectacular contrast to the green of the elms that lined the road.

Use sounds to put readers in the scene

Excerpt from Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

“The rain came once my feathered vocalist had departed. It echoed the same tune, pinging against the gutters and metal roof, imitating timpani drums instead of the robust strings and brass of an orchestra delivering the meaning with tiny percussive notes I couldn’t ignore.”

Describe the people your narrator is seeing

Excerpt from The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore

“On the top deck of the ferry from Point Judith to Block Island, Anthony Puckett watched a group of bachelorettes drinking from plastic tumblers. They wore identical skintight tank tops—- white of course, bachelorettes always wore white— that depicted a pair of cowboy boots with the words Ride ‘Em Cowgirls above and Jennie’s Last Rodeo below. Each tumbler was printed with its girl’s name in large block letters: Ashlie, Lexie, Sadie, etc. He didn’t know what was more depressing: the ie factor, or the cowgirl hats each girl wore, here in Rhode Island, so far from Texas or Nashville or anyplace where such a hat might be warranted. Or the orange juice he could see through the clear plastic of the tumblers, which meant they were drinking screwdrivers, the most unimaginative drink of all the drinks.”

Excerpt from The Last Book Party by Rachel Dukess

“Walking up the dirt driveway to the summer home of Henry Grey, I reminded myself that I was an invited guest. Men in wrinkled linen shirts and baggy pants and women in loose, flowing skirts and dresses milled about on the ragged lawn in front of the old saltbox house. The wind off the ocean, a few hollows away, was gentle but steady, sending cocktail napkins floating like feathers.”

Use texture to utilize all of your readers’ senses

Excerpt from The Enlightenment of Bees by Rachel Linden

“How can this be happening?” I whisper to the empty living room. Three hours after the disastrous Ferris wheel ride, I am curled up in the fetal position on the couch at the cottage, puffy and wrung out from incessant ugly crying. Cocooned in a fuzzy brown blanket my mother crocheted for me when I left home for college, I stare out the picture window at the cold drizzle. Floor lamps cast pools of light onto the Persian carpet and Bonnie Raitt warbles plaintively in the background. “I can’t make you love me,” she sings with such aching poignancy fresh tears well up in my eyes.”

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