Zoom In to Bring Your Setting to Life

My husband walking ahead of me on the road.

Last week, we popped down to the lake for just over a day. Walking the gravel roads and gazing up at the trees, I started thinking about what makes the area unique. I started going there when I was a preschooler with my grandparents so I’m fairly familiar with the area. It is the shag bark hickory? Is it the gravel roads?

As I contemplated this question, I thought about the setting in one of my stories. It felt more than a little generic and I realized that part of the reason was that my characters were roaming Every Wood. I needed to zoom in to make the space feel unique.

Take a look at this picture above and you’ll see what I mean. My husband and I were walking through the woods and that’s about all you can tell. You can tell that this isn’t a pine woods but that’s about it. Ok, if you’re an arborist you might be able to tell from the shapes of the trees that there are hickory, etc. But most of us? We don’t have a clue. We need to zoom in so that we can see the bark or better yet the shapes of the leaves.

But aren’t forests more than just trees? Let’s zoom in again.

If you’ve walked gravel roads in the country you know that there are specific plants that grow along the roads. In southern Missouri, this might include multiflora roses or blackberry. Smaller plants include black-eyed Susan’s, Queen Anne’s lace, and thistle like this one with it’s accompanying bee.

Zoom in yet again and look down. When I was a kid, there weren’t any armadillo but now they are abundant. I’ve never seen them in the woods but my husband and son have. You might spot a terrapin and there’s always moss and, if you are here at the right time of year, a variety of fungus like this bright yellow wonder. Believe it or not, the colors actually looked brighter in real life.

When you work details into your setting, just remember that a little bit goes a long way. You want to work in specifics that are meaningful. A character who weaves might note the colors of the toadstool and the thistle and wonder how they would combine in a piece of cloth. Another character might mourn that this isn’t an edible morel but, most likely, one of it’s toxic cousins.

Zoom in and make it count and you’ll have a setting that is both unique and interwoven with your story.


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