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Creating A Sense Of Place In A Novel, by Kashmira Sheth

Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth - US novelist from India

Writing a story that has a rich sense of place makes the setting feel authentic. If the place is unique, our characters stand out against their illuminating backgrounds.

Making the place come alive becomes crucial if our readers are unfamiliar with the setting. This occurs in many types of stories, including historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy and stories set in other cultures. Not only do readers need to connect with the main character and their journey, but they also need to know and understand where that journey takes place.

As a writer, you needs to conceptualize this place in your head. If you simply describe all of it at the beginning of the story, it won’t be effective. Too much information about the place will probably get boring; it might slow down the story, and even make the plot feel irrelevant. The key to introducing a new place is to do it in such a way that the reader finds it relevant and fascinating,

By adding a little information at a time about the setting, readers can slowly drink it in as they read the story, instead of having to gulp it down all at once.

By describing things that need to be explained or that would enhance the story, and skipping the unnecessary details, you can sharpen the pace. If you start describing a moonrise, make sure there is something unique about it and that it has a connection to your story. If the moonrise is somehow linked to the character’s journey, mention it. Otherwise, save your descriptions for something unique to that place or to your story.

The writer should also consider carefully the timing of these details.  If the place or culture is utterly unfamiliar to our readers, details can be thought of as multiple curtains. They can be lifted up one at a time to reveal what we need to know and want to communicate at that specific time in the story.

Besides revealing the right details at the right time, using metaphors and similes can ground readers to a particular place. These metaphors and similes must be tied to the environment your protagonist inhabits. If someone is living in a lush tropical climate, “as sweet as maple syrup,” doesn’t resonate true. Instead, “as sweet as sugarcane juice,” might work well. If the story is set in another culture, some words from the native language can also help give the story an authentic feel. The sounds of a different language can have an almost magical power to transport the reader somewhere else. Using vivid and unique imagery and sounds of language from the place can also create the right atmosphere for the story. These metaphors and imagery plant the reader firmly into our character’s world.

By employing the different techniques mentioned above, you can bring into focus the world of your protagonist and invite the reader to step in.


Kashmira Sheth’s author website:

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Keeping CornerBoys without Names     The Girl Who Was Supposed to DieThe Empty KingdomAugustAngel DustBlue is for Nightmares

Writing Teen Novels

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