Bird Face Wendy

Things relevant to reading, writing, publishing or marketing teen fiction.

Decorating the Real and Fictional Worlds

on June 10, 2015

Maybe it’s because I spent a number of years working as a decorator, but description of settings in a novel is important to me. I like to read enough detail about the location for any scene to get a clear mental image.

I would rather see too much description and skim over some details than receive too little information. When I can’t picture the setting from the author’s description or from my personal experience (as in contemporary realism), I feel like a blindfolded captive.

Where am I???

Image courtesy of Morguefile free photos

If a reader is more into action than ambiance, he may not appreciate the way I use home furnishing descriptions in my scenes. That’s okay. But I use them to help the reader understand not only the physical setting but also the scene’s tone and the characters’ personalities or emotional state. My decorating experience taught me to understand a client’s needs, desires, and fears when it came to creating an interior environment for him or her. That understanding is reflected in my writing, I hope.

If a character sits in a chair, he interacts with it. How does it look and feel to him? Does the color remind him of something pleasant or unpleasant? A writer can go overboard, but some outward detail can offer the reader inward details about the character.

Whether the fictional environment is a home, a public building, or the wild outdoors, the setting description is an opportunity for the writer to reveal more.

So why not decorate the space and make the most of it.

Do you enjoy reading many setting details or can you do without them? Does it make a difference whether the setting is historical, contemporary, and/or fantasy or science fiction?

6 responses to “Decorating the Real and Fictional Worlds

  1. I’m more of a medium, I guess. I don’t like too much detail but I hate rereading pages trying to figure out the age of a character or what color their hair is, convinced I must have missed it, only to discover it wasn’t written. To me, certain things need to be described pretty promptly. If the main character isn’t described until 5 pages in, I’ve already pictured something else in my mind.


  2. I totally agree with your feelings about character descriptions. Our brains fill in the age, face, hair color, body type, etc. if the author fails to provide descriptions from the start. Then what do we do if we later encounter a description? We have to erase the first image from our brains!


  3. I like balance also. I want to feel grounded in the scene without being overwhelmed with detail.


    • I expect more description in historical or science fiction, but even in contemporary fiction with a setting in a specific geographical location I’ve never visited, I often long for details. Some settings in contemporary fiction are more generic and that can work if the story is good. Then I don’t care as much.


  4. Sensory details are my weak point. I have to go over and over a manuscript and add layers. So my question based on above comments: if a character is not immediately described, would you as the reader prefer that the author never describe her so you can keep the picture you created in your mind? I ask because I purposely left out description of my protagonist for a short story. I figured she could look like anyone the reader wanted. If that would drive you crazy, I should rethink.


    • That wouldn’t drive me crazy. 🙂 I’ve noticed less description of characters in short stories. If you intentionally leave the protagonist’s appearance to the reader’s imagination (and it sounds like you have a good reason for it), that wouldn’t ruin my enjoyment of the story at all. Anyone else have an opinion about that?


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