How to Write Rich and Vivid Settings

The setting of your novel is just as important as character development and dialogue. It needs to accurately reflect the period or define the world-building making it as vibrating and sensory as possible. It’s much more than painting a picture, its a fine art of evoking the five senses to bring the story alive, immersing the reader into the world you’ve created.

Coffee-Tree-pen-paper-blog banner-writing tips

Whilst it’s tempting to fill your pages with purple prose and lengthy descriptions, be mindful that those approaches tend to bog a story down. Foreshadowing is a great tool that allows the writer to drip feed upcoming events; a carefully placed dagger might elude to a murder or a broken lock might reveal how a derelict house is broken into. However, relevance is vital, if that dagger isn’t going to be used to drive the plot forward don’t use it for the sake of embellishing a scene. Aside from the odd red herring to mislead your reader, everything should have a purpose, even if it is only to show how affluent your character is or to reveal aspects of their personality.

To help develop the story and anchor the reader, include details such as the time of day, weather, place, or season. For example: An apple tree in early bloom would hint at spring. Some of the specifics could be done through character description and clothing, but others can be hinted at while your character moves through the setting. Instead show the streetlamps flaring to life as the sun dips below the high-rise buildings. Perhaps car lights reflect off of the slick tarmac to reveal a rainy night.

Another great writing technique is to add symbolism, we see symbols every day and take them for granted: A heart means love. Red signals passion or anger. And even names and places can have a meaning behind them. We can go further using similes, such as, as brave as a lion. Or by using metaphors: Imagine a character returning home to take care of an elderly parent, to find their childhood farm in a run-down dilapidated condition, much like the health of their loved one.

Use the landscape or worldbuilding as an obstacle for your character to overcome. An anxious character might fear large cities full of people. What would happen if he had to travel to a big city to meet with his dream agent? OK, so that’s one of my potential obstacles, but you can start to understand how facing that fear would be a great challenge.


Lastly, let’s not forget the advantages the five senses play when crafting a novel. They can be used to foreshadow, show the passing of time, reveal landscapes that build plot and play with symbolism. But never underestimate the importance of evoking emotions in your readers, all of which can be done by arousing the five senses as the character’s move through the story.


Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

What technique do you need to work on? And which is your preferred method of evoking emotions in your reader? Please comment, you know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and, 2019.

24 thoughts on “How to Write Rich and Vivid Settings

  1. Wonderful advice! I have a list by my desk that looks a lot like your graphic that says “don’t forget” and lists the five senses, plus balance, temperature, and emotion. When I was fixing the first draft of my WIP, that simple list helped a lot with setting (which I’ve struggled with in the past). On my third pass of my WIP, I plan to add foreshadowing.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Balance is one besides the 5 senses I learned in a book about writing (I forgot which, sorry!), which you can use to metaphorically show stability (or instability) in a character.

        For instance, hearing bad news? Your character could feel bad, *or* they could feel the floor shift beneath them.

        The other extra ones I learned about are mental (health), spiritual, intuitive (hairs raising, a strange feeling that doesn’t fit into the 5 senses), heat/cold, and pain.

        It helps make a story a bit more poetic. Like, instead of saying “guilt” again in my WIP, I had my character feel a stab of pain within their heart.

        It’s fun to play around with 🙂 Just a little extra. I wish I remembered the book I got it from.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this post, and a huge fan of your info-graphics! There are so many amazing suggestions here and I particularly like the one about symbolism/symbols. Such a subtle way to create a big impact. Thank you for your insight, Rainy. It is always wonderful ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s so many little things. Like a tiny drip if left alone becomes a gallon.

    My style is to finish the first draft. I don’t worry to much, I just do it. Afterwards I add layers like the ones you just mentioned. Tiny little things that will have an impact later on. My goal is plant tiny seeds in the readers minds without them knowing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Aside from the odd red herring to mislead your reader, everything should have a purpose” 🙌🏻 Yes! Love this post, Rainy. Your advice is spot on and your info graph is awesome. Sharing everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. These are such helpful tips! I think I usually tend to ignore setting descriptions because I can see the scene in my head and I’m afraid of purple prose. *shudders* The five senses are so key, especially when they can be worked in with character action. Great post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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