Descriptions: Making Them Work in Your Novel

Novel SettingLast week, I wrote a post about setting details in your picture book.  With such a limited word count, every picture book detail has to count and the best way to do this is to leave visual details to the illustrator.

But you should be just as careful when planting setting details in a novel.  Yes, you have a much larger word count but you will also create a stronger story if every detail is there for a reason.

  • Employing All of Your Senses: We all know to use our various senses in our writing.  Many writers I know make sure that they have 3 sensory details on each page of their novel.  But make these details count by making sure they are something your narrator would notice.  An artist will notice things that a surgeon would overlook.  An athlete will notice something else entirely.  In this way, you can use your sensory details to tell us about your character.
  • Characterization: Details can reveal the setting while also telling us all about your character.  What kind of home does your character live in?  What props does she choose for herself?  What things are chosen by people who should know her but don’t?  This can all reveal character to the reader.
  • Mood: Setting details can also reveal mood. If you want to lend an ominous mood to your story, the sky could be steely vs. pearly grey, the scent of flowers cloying vs. fragrant, the wind chimes jarring vs. melodic. 
  • Red Herrings: If you are writing a mystery, the setting is also the place to work in some of your red herrings.  A carelessly forgotten book, a misplaced pair of sunglasses or a torn jacket can all seem to say something ominous even when they would be innocent in any story other than a mystery.

Because a novel has a much larger word count that a picture book, many writers throw in setting details willy nilly.  Carefully plant details with a purpose and you will have a richly layered story that takes your reader from one carefully plotted location to another, all under the control of you, the writer.