5 Tips to Write Great, Believable Fiction Settings

5 Tips to Write Great, Believable Fiction Settings

Fiction Settings—the locations where your stories take place—are an often overlooked basic element of engrossing fiction. Sure, lots of novice writers mention where the characters are, but they don’t all take the time to bring the setting to life. But establishing a strong sense of place with appropriate, rich details allows the audience to better envision themselves in the action of the story. And that’s a more engaging, memorable reading experience for them. 

Here are five tips for crafting more compelling settings that help make fiction tales more vibrant: 

Use Sensory Details 

Bring settings to life using all the senses. Show what the place looks like, of course, but that’s not enough for settings in which major plot points take place. Are there other people? What’s that noticeable scent? Do the characters hear machinery clanking in the distance or strangers’ mumbled conversations? Can they feel the breeze, oppressive humidity, or the cold marble counter top? Can they taste the baking bread as well as they smell it? Can they taste the excitement? Is there a prevailing mood to the atmosphere? 

Follow Patterns of Natural Observation 

When describing your settings, go first to the most noticeable details and work your way down. In other words, reveal the place the same way your characters experience it. Let your readers become more intimately acquainted with the location exactly as your characters do. Provide them information by having characters react to what they observe. Is there something curious the character feels warrants further investigation? Actively take your audience on that investigative journey. 

Let the Main Character Influence Description 

In most instances, reveal the setting through the main character’s mind and experience. This goes beyond following natural patterns of observation. Use the character’s age and general knowledge and experience when describing the surroundings. For example, if your character isn’t an antiques dealer or enthusiast, it will usually seem weird to go into details about the country of origin and history of antiques in the room. Also, your character’s mood should affect the perception of the setting. 

Balance Brevity and Description Appropriately 

Giving readers just the right amount of details about the setting can be tricky. And it’s largely a matter of writing style and story structure. Too little detail, and the place fails to come to life for your audience; too much, and you disrupt the narrative’s action and even bore people. Be thoughtful and deliberate, and try to address unique or interesting aspects of the setting. Again, this can be a hard balance to strike, and, since this is art, some readers will appreciate things that others don’t. For example, if you’ve read Ann Rice, you know she can describe curtains for six pages. Some readers adore it, others flip past those pages. 

Incorporate Literary Devices 

Engaging fiction writing calls for more than straightforward descriptions. That’s why we authors have so many wonderful literary devices in our repertoire. Similes and metaphors are some of the most common and versatile, and they really let you show rather than tell. Personification, or attributing human qualities to inanimate objects, is another one that can be tons of fun when bringing your setting to life. Don’t merely list what’s around your characters… paint an artistic picture for your readers.


Joanna Sims is proud to pen contemporary romance for Harlequin Special Edition. Joanna's series, The Brands of Montana, feature hard-working characters with hometown values. You are cordially invited to join The Brands of Montana as they wrangle their own happily-ever-afters!

Joanna's contemporary romance novels captivate readers with their gripping plots, vivid prose, and devotion to love, realism, relatable characters, and detailed depictions of all the ups and downs that lead to a happily-ever-after.

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