By: Amanda Winstead
Setting Your Novel: Using Your Environment to Make Your World Come to Life
“I think with world building, it’s important to create a sense of culture even if it is just a fantasy, and the best way to do that is to look at a real human culture and see what makes it cohesive. – Author: Laini Taylor
You’ve got awesome characters, an unforgettable plot, and twists and turns galore ready to go for your upcoming novel. There’s just one problem – you can’t think of the right environment. The scenery in stories plays a more significant role than most people realize at first. But, without the right setting, even the greatest novels would fall flat.
Think of Harry Potter without the influence of Hogwarts or Lord of the Rings without Mordor. Even modern-day best-sellers use their environments as ways to keep readers engaged and informed.
Simply put, the scenery will set your story apart. When you can build a world outside of just your text, you will give readers a fuller, richer reading experience. It will make everything feel real, even when you’re writing fantasy.
Unfortunately, the environment can be something writers struggle with, or it can come as an afterthought. Why not use the old tip of writing what you know if that sounds familiar?
The world around you can influence your writing, including the scenery surrounding your story. No matter your genre or plot, consider using the space where you write or live to inspire you. It’s a great way to overcome creative blocks and create a vivid world for your characters.
Not sure how to get started? Let’s cover a few helpful tips.
Creating the Ideal Writing Space
As a writer, you already understand the importance of working in a space that sparks creativity. Your environment can have a significant impact on your mental well-being. If your writing space increases stress or is too distracting, you will be less focused and might feel like you’re lacking that creative flow.
So, your first priority should be developing a writing space that inspires and influences you. Granted, your story probably isn’t going to be set in an office unless you’re working on the next Fifty Shades of Gray. But having personal belongings, artwork, or even specific colors can influence how you write scenery in your story.
Start by decluttering and cleaning your writing space. Yes, it makes a difference. If you’re writing a novel about a Victorian-era family or a young female pioneer, it’s going to be hard to get inspired when you’re surrounded by 21st-century clutter. While technology is helpful and can make your life easier, try clearing as much of it away as possible so you can get in the right mindset for your book. Studies have shown that decluttering can also reduce stress and improve your focus to avoid being distracted by everything around you.
Asking the Right Questions
You can make your novel’s world come to life easier by asking yourself the right inspirational questions no matter where you write. You don’t have to come up with a world from nothing. Instead, look at your world and use pieces of it as building blocks for something new.
Ask yourself some of the following questions to get started:
- What are the key features of your world’s environment?
- What season is it? What’s unique about that season?
- How will landscape features impact the characters?
- Will the environment create obstacles?
- How could the environment be symbolic?
It can help to answer those questions using your current surroundings. For example, if you live in a busy city, some of the key features might be a lot of people, noise, and congestion. If it’s winter, you might notice Christmas lights and cold air. Things like traffic and busy streets/shops could create obstacles.
Everyday Events Encourage Imagination
If you don’t want your story set in your environment, you can at least use your world to come up with answers for your characters. You’ll be able to focus on details with every additional question – a crucial component to setting the scene and making it feel real.
Margaret Atwood generates ideas for her worlds by asking questions about breakfast. “This may sound silly, but I like to wonder what people would have for breakfast–which people, as their breakfasts would be different–and where they would get those food items, and whether or not they would say a prayer over them, and how they would pay for them, and what they would wear during that meal, and, if cooked, how, and what sort of bed they would have arisen from, and what else they might be doing while having the breakfast–talking to someone (who), in person or on a device (what?), and who would be allowed to do that, and what they might feel safe in saying. Breakfast can take you quite far.”
Changing Your Environment
Whether you typically write from home, your favorite coffee shop, or use shared office space, you might want to consider changing your environment if you’re having trouble building a world for your novel.
If you already have specific characters and ideas in mind, consider traveling to different locations that might make sense for your story. For example, if your character lives near the water or you want your scenes to take place at the beach, that offers up a pretty great excuse to rent a house on the water, even for a short period. As a bonus, you can experience benefits like:
- Fresh air
- A stronger immune system
- Better sleep
Broaden Your Perspectives
Traveling is a wonderful way to boost your creativity as well as your mental health. You can learn about different cultures, take in new experiences, and find inspiration in ways you simply can’t from the comfort of your office. That could be all it takes to create the perfect world for your novel and make the details of the scenery come to life.
You’ll even be able to learn things about different environments that you can’t pick up from research alone. Think of Game of Thrones, for example. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you picture the scenery? There are seven distinct kingdoms with features ranging from vast mountain ranges, sandy beaches, deserts, and craggy rock islands. While the television show has helped with those visuals in recent years, no one could bring those worlds to life so vividly without the right words from George R. R. Martin. Building a world requires attention to detail, and one of the best ways to capture that detail is to visit inspiring locations.
Whether your novel is set in modern times or a fantasy world, these tips can help you use your environment as inspiration. The world around you can have more of an influence on your writing than you might think. Ask yourself the right questions, pay attention to the details, and consider what would work best for your characters. When you do that, you might be surprised by how easy it is to create an environment based on what you already know and help your readers fully immerse themselves in the world you’ve created.
Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts.
If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.
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