Setting is defined simply as the
And if your character is living in the 1700s, it is unwise to ask the reader to believe that a biplane lands in a nearby cornfield (unless you are writing a time travel story). Setting limits narration, so choose your settings very carefully. Settings can also significantly define character. (Take me there.)
To create engaging and believabe setting, remember that establishing setting is a descriptive writing task. To write descriptively, you must remember that everything you know of your environment is obtained through your five senses. Imagine that you cannot see, hear, feel, taste, or smell. How would you even know another person was in the room with you? You can bump into them, but not know because you cannot feel. You cannot hear their voice or movements. You cannot see them. You cannot smell her perfume or his aftershave. You are totally isolated, aren't you?
The same is true for your readers. If you do not show them, they will not know. And the only way to show them your setting is to honor their need for sensory input.
Here arises a great mischief, if you are not wise. There is a big difference between describing a scene and evaluating a scene. Evaluations merely tell the reader how you felt about the sensory experience:
The reader is less interested in how the writer perceives things and more interested in receiving the sensory data needed to form his own opinion. If the writer wants to lead the reader to a particular perception, the writer must supply the necessary senory details. Examine the following two examples:
Can you see the difference between 1 and 2? Of course you can! Sensory details are the key to writing description. That clearly goes for creating settings, too. Notice that in the second example, no evaluations were used or needed. I slanted the reader toward a good experience by selecting details I know most readers will find delightful. I do not need to tell the reader that I like the fair. The reader can tell by the details I present! Evaluations will not paint the picture. Example 1 is flat and unappealing.
And if I want the reader to know that I do not like the fair, I simply change the details I present. Consider the following:
Barkers everywhere try to rip you off, to steal your money with fixed games. Stale, over-priced food assaults your nose with its greasy, fried smell. The cries of lost children get lost amid the deafening generators. You must endure the stench of the cattle barns and step over vomit beneath brain-rattling rides. Stobe lights threaten every epileptic. Pick pockets lurk everywhere. The fair? Forget it!
See how I changed the reader's understanding of the fair? While the reader's experiences at the fair may be very different from mine, the reader clearly understands how the writer feels about the fair. Evaluative words are not necessary when specific sensory details are given.
To recreate a setting in the mind of the reader, the writer must use specific words. Vague, abstract, or evaluative words can not accomplish the mission. There are no generalities in the world!
Why use the word "dog"? Does it create a specific picture in the mind of the reader? Not much of one. But the words "fluffy German shepherd puppy" do create a specific image, don't they? Why? Because there are no generic dogs in the universe! Every dog that followed you home from school was the only dog that was that dog!
Will that make your writing longer? Probably. But remember this: