Describing Scenery and Setting

While walking down the road the other day, I came across some scenery I thought would be perfect in my first novel.  It’s on the land my mom and dad own, and I have passed it at least a hundred times because it’s on the path I take while walking.

It’s a small opening underneath some trees that has eroded over the years.  It’s kind of hard to tell in this photo though.

Well, in my novel, my two main characters are running from the “monster” and having to hide from it.  I just had them hide behind a tree, but as soon as I saw this the other day, I had a “That’s perfect!” moment.  It has to be written in that scene because it would just make it perfect.  Well, near perfect anyway, and this has led me to thinking about scenery and setting.

What is scenery?  Merriam Webster defines it as :

1: the painted scenes or hangings and accessories used on a theater stage

2: a picturesque view or landscape

3: one’s usual surroundings

So, how do you make scenery work in your writing?

First, you need to know what you have in mind.  Let’s take this picture for instance.  I don’t want it exactly as is because that would mean they would be visible from a road, so I have to change that.  I do want to keep the opening on the underside of a small hill where the monster can’t see them right away.

So, now that we know what we want the scenery to look like, we have to describe it.

As a writer, we have to use our words like a painter uses his brush to describe the scenery we have in mind for our story.  We want to bring it to life, but it’s not always easy to do.

I start with jotting down short descriptions of the picture I have in mind for the scenery.  For example: The limbs hang freely in the small opening; Erosion from a dried up creek caused the opening.

Then, I take those small sentences (or even fragments) and paint them with words.

Now, we start crossing over into setting territory.  Setting as described by this website states:

Writers describe the world they know. Sights, sounds, colors, and textures are all vividly painted in words as an artist paints images on canvas. A writer imagines a story to be happening in a place that is rooted in his or her mind. The location of a story’s actions, along with the time in which it occurs, is the setting. Setting is created by language. How many or how few details we learn is up to the author. Many authors leave a lot of these details up to the reader’s imagination.

So, with setting, we not only have the scenery, but we have to add in more: time, sounds, and place.

For example, my novel is written in a small fictional town called, Brownsville, Tennessee.  The place where they’re being chased is at a newly remodeled house called, The Willow House, on a gravel road by some bridges.  It’s night time, so I would have to add in night time sounds like crickets chirping, owls hooting, dogs barking in the distance, water from the river, etc.  Not only do I have to add those sounds, I have to add in the gravel crunching underneath their feet or the dead leaves that make up the floor of the woods surrounding them breaking up beneath their feet as well.  It’s late.  They’re both tired.  One’s even injured.  I have to add in all of this.  It is what makes up this particular scene.

In a novel, you have many different scenes to work with, so there are many different settings and scenery.  It’s important to work through all of the details, but as the website said, it’s up to the author to decide how many or how few details the reader has to work with.

 How do you deal with scenery and setting in your stories?


2 thoughts on “Describing Scenery and Setting

  1. I love this photo. I do a similar thing – take photos of places that I think would make great settings for stories. Sometimes I don’t even have a particular syory in mind, I just know that it would be an awesome place.

    I wish I could take photos of random people on the street sometimes, because they look interesting and would be a good base for describing random background characters in my novel. But apparently people don’t like it when you surreptitiously photograph them…


  2. Unfortunately they don’t. One day while sitting in Starbucks waiting for my friend to meet me a couple of months ago, I saw three people. There was this elderly couple sitting at a table talking and I thought they were married. Turns out, when they got up to leave, she told him that it was good seeing him again. I wish that I could’ve photographed them in that setting because it was so cute, and I thought about writing a story involving two people like that. So, I agree with you about that for sure!


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