I know this will vary depending on the type of the story and the characters involved, not to mention the location itself. What I am looking for is some kind of guideline for identifying different aspects of the setting that should be included when you try to work it into your story. Is there some kind of checklist that an author can use to consider what they should include when describing the setting of the story?


4 Answers 4


Just the location can be a pretty broad part of the setting. From the country down to the city and then down to the buildings surrounding your characters, depending on what is important to your story. You could also consider what activities are going on around your characters. Are there are plants or wildlife that are relevant or that might add interest to your story? What about the weather or smells or sounds?


Not only do you have to take into account all the senses, but you have to understand which details your narrator would think were worthwhile to mention. When you describing your setting or location, you must think about not only what it says about the main character but also what details the narrator would include or leave out and why.

For example, let's say your character is a banker. They probably wouldn't notice the materials that a house was made of, but they may notice the cars in people driveways. If your character is instead a carpenter, the type of wood used in the banisters or the sub-par job done on the basement drywall might be the first things they see.


It could also be quite fun to work the history of a site into the story by playing the current protagonist as a modern 'historical figure' with a twist. Subtle and sublime if you can do it without direct statement or allusion.


I suggest a checklist, at least, of sensory information, and another of "implications".

I say checklist because you don't necessarily need all of them, and trying to describe all of them becomes ridiculous. Look to prioritize and pick one or two.

In senses we have what is seen and heard and smelled. We also have the temperature, humidity, and irritations: a chair can be uncomfortable, the floor can be damp, the ground can be soft or muddy or hard and sharp stones. Insects can be landing on you and need swatting. The smoke or dust can be coating your mouth or clogging your nostrils.

Always consider, on your list, what you do NOT see or hear. Have the birds or crickets gone silent?

Is something MISSING that we'd expect to see there?

Those are the direct senses, but you have mental and emotional reactions that inform the setting, too:

The bridge looks dangerously rotted.

Captain Fuller was executed by firing squad against this very stone wall.

My grandfather proposed to my grandma Mary under that tree when they were fifteen, it is hard to imagine them as teenagers. I took a knee for my Karen in the exact same spot, it will have been fifty years this summer.

So what happened here?

What are the emotional connection?

What does it remind your characters of?

What does what they see MEAN to them?

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