Setting is important to my books as they’re seasonal and set in countries other than the UK or in an English village. I keep a picture of Middledip fresh in my imagination or a reader might message me to point out that you turn right of Honeybun Cottage to go to the garage, shop and pub in one book but left in another. (It’s right.) To help me in this I have a map of Middledip and also a spreadsheet so I know when the village hall was closed for repairs and when the pub got a refurb. If you wish, you can see the Middledip map on my website. Just follow the link, click GO! and the map opens up and you can hover over the markers and see who lives where. You can also take a walk around Nelson’s Bar.
If setting and sense of place is important then descriptions are too. Here are a few techniques I like:
- typical features. In a village setting I comment on whether cottages are thatched or have roof slates, walls of brick or stone. If it’s a seaside village such as Nelson’s Bar then the sea and cliffs come into it a lot. In Italy it’s cypress trees, sunflowers, olive groves. In Malta the sea again, golden stone buildings, prickly pears and dust.
- colour. I try and paint pictures into the imagination of my readers. A starry night sky is fine but silvery stars and black night feels better.
- imagery. Simile and metaphor enliven writing and can be a shortcut to sharing my imagination. If I mention a bearlike man I don’t mean he’s furry and walks on all fours. I’m thinking big, shambling, maybe grim. Describing a cruise liner as a floating apartment block can produce the right image without labouring over a long description of cabin beside cabin, deck above deck, balconies and people on them and the whole floating on the sea.
- character perspective. I often include my character’s feelings, both physical and emotional, when they view a scene. It makes the description interesting and keeps it in proportion. In Summer on a Sunny Island I set myself the task of having Rosa not like Malta when she first arrives. As I adore Malta, it was a challenge. I had to get under her skin and look at the teeming traffic, the road signs she didn’t understand, the dust that covered the car. She was too hot, a construction site was making too much noise. It took her a while to appreciate the joys of snorkelling in a turquoise sea and admiring the golden architecture.
- weaving. I try and weave description in rather than holding up the narrative by indulging in long descriptive passages. Such passages are static. They don’t tell you what’s happening or how someone feels.
- senses. Probably one of the things we learn first in writing is to utilise all our senses. If I’m describing my heroine I think the smell of her fabric conditioner, the smoothness of her skin and the sound of her laugh can be as important as the colour of her eyes and hair.
- seasons. The sea on a sunny summer’s day compared to the sullen, corrugated waves of the winter ocean. Leafy hedges compared to bare branches. Bouncy white clouds compared to ragged grey. A pair of cut off denim shorts or a thick khaki parka. Sparkly flip-flops or fur-lined boots. Everything changes as the seasons do.
How much description you include depends on what you’re writing and how you write. It’s a personal choice and an editorial choice. Without it, readers have nothing to feed their mind’s eye.
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