Where you set your story is extremely important. Whether it’s in real life or in a fantasy world, a good setting can make all the difference between a reader enjoying your story or not. Like characters, your setting has got to be believable (even the fantasy places), so it’s important to place your characters in a well-rounded world that’s been as well thought out as the rest of your story.
Create your own world and develop that world by using good description… you can say a lot about a place without actually having to spell it out. Use the five senses to get across the feeling of the place: what your characters see, hear, smell, taste and touch.
Use your scenery to convey a mood: depression might come across as a dark, dying, horrible place; somewhere safe and serene might be described as being beautiful and full of light; or you might use a lovely place to get across menace or mischief.
What can your character or characters see? Close your eyes and imagine seeing through theirs. What are they looking at? How do they respond to it? Does it make them feel safe or scared? Do they want to be there? Are they apprehensive or okay about being there? Are there other characters there? Does your setting reflect what these other characters are (for instance, a nasty horrible place reflecting nasty horrible baddies)?
What can you hear? Whistling wind through trees? Birds in the chimney? An eerie squealing? Maybe there’s much needed silence after something horrible happens! Maybe it’s a lovely spring day and all your character can hear is the humming of bees in the flowers and birdsong. Is there a spooky stillness where everything is quiet and there’s a feeling of menace hanging in the air? Can they hear the rumble of thunder signalling a storm brewing? Other examples of sounds include: radio, singing, traffic, an aircraft, the whoosh of a windmill, children playing, people in pain, a horse whinnying.
What does your setting smell like? Is it pleasant? Does it smell of flowers or chocolate? Does it put your character at ease? Or is that smell there to entice them in (think Hansel and Gretel and the gingerbread house!)? Is the smell nasty, does it put them off being there? Is there a smell of death? Maybe your setting smells really unpleasant (a swamp for instance)? But getting through it is part of your character’s quest and they learn and grow from it. Other examples of smell include: body odour, perfume, food, animal (wet dog), a fire, salt in the air, manure on the fields, petrol, cut grass, and mould.
Don’t forget taste, it’s an important sense. Is there some kind of strange taste in the air? Perhaps it’s a season, the damp, earthiness of autumn for instance? Maybe there’s some sort of perfume in the air that your character can taste. What about the saltiness of the seaside? Other examples of taste: a bitter taste in your mouth caused by fear or anxiety, the deliciousness of food, the taste of water in the air showing that rain is coming, a cool glass of water.
What can your character touch? Is the setting cold? Hot? Just right? Is the ground rough or smooth? What’s inside the setting? Is it a room covered in fur? Maybe they can feel something squidgy or hard, floppy or rigid. Other examples of touch include: soft, hard, rough, smooth, cold, warm, brittle, icy, fragile, scales, squelchy, a springy carpet.
And don’t forget the final one: the sixth sense. Maybe there’s a feeling that someone is watching your character. What if your character is creeped out by the place they find themselves in? They feel it’s haunted and react appropriately.
Don’t wax lyrical with your description. A little says a lot. Make every word work for you. Make them count.
Finally don’t use a setting just for the sake of it – it should be an integral part of the book. For instance, don’t put in paragraphs about a castle when your characters never go there, no part of the story happens there and there’s no real point to you putting it in.