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As a fantasy writer, setting often inspires me the most when I compose a story. However, no matter how clear the imagined world is in my own head, I still sometimes struggle to fully communicate my vision to the reader. It’s easy to fall back on old standbys, especially visual cues. Sight, of course, is often the simplest sense to access: our eyes process the world, and much of our story telling relies on this dominant sense. However, touch, sound, smell and taste can provide much more visceral ways to immerse the reader in the physicality of a setting. The following examples are from the recently released The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Places, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

“The kiss of warmth as one lies in the sun to dry… gritty sand… water splashing on bare legs… wet hair tangling in the wind… the sting of a jellyfish.”

Such details can give the reader a sense of time passing, add poignancy to a scene, or else just ground him or her in the here and now of the story. These next phrases situate the reader in a forest setting.

“The rough cracked ridges of tree bark… a falling leaf landing in one’s hair… sticky sap beads… the hum of insects… pine needles scratching at the arms.”

Do you struggle with description in your writing? Try blindfolding your character, and leading them to a forest or a beach, before putting words to their experience. Or, pretend they are on a cliff top above the ocean, but can only perceive their environment with two senses – you choose which ones. Such exercises can lead to description that is more engaging for both the writer – and the reader. I’ll finish with a few examples from my own novel, Esme’s Wish:

Olfactory imagery (scent):

“The air was laden with the smell of impending rain, but the wharf smelled the way it always did – of fish and old rope and greasy diesel.”

Tactile imagery (touch):

“Her clammy shorts stuck to the hard boulder beneath her; the leather straps of her sodden sandals pressed against her feet. Water dripped from her hair down onto her face. She put her hand to her chest, and felt it rise and fall.”

Auditory imagery (sound):

“The pounding waves had been replaced by more subdued noises: the lap of water in the wake of passing boats, a child’s laugh from the nearby bridge, the muffled toll of distant bells.”

I’d love to read examples from your own writing efforts. Feel free to comment below.

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