A good fiction writer uses settings to create visual images that not only show where the action takes place but also reveal something about the characters and the story. So choose your location for each scene very carefully. The right setting can add depth to characters, set a particular mood, and even serve as an allegory for the emotions being experienced by the characters.
Descriptions also add authenticity. If you’re writing a story that takes place in a location you aren’t familiar with, do your research. If at all possible, visit the place (or a similar one) and record what you see, hear, smell, etc. Then write vivid descriptions that set the tone for that scene and will make your readers feel as if they are really there.
Setting description is far more than just the name of a city, the size of a room, or the location of a park. It can include details such as the weather, season, month, year, time of day. But don’t just tell what a location looks like. A long paragraph filled with simple, objective adjectives will bore your readers and take them out of the story. Instead, weave the pertinent details subtly into the scene, and always in the perspective of the point-of-view character.
Envision the room’s décor. Is it cozy, formal, drab, cheerful, elegant, sparse, filled with knickknacks? Such elements reflect the room’s owner, which provides a clue to the personality of that character.
When a point-of-view character enters a room, describe the overall appearance of the room. Make the description brief, showing only what the character notices right off. As you show the character doing things in the room, weave in descriptions that fit the action. For example, if you have your heroine sit in a chair, describe the chair. Is it a hard-backed wooden chair with pastel cushions tied to the seat and the back with brightly colored ribbons? Is it a black leather office chair? a rare antique with gold filigree? an old overstuffed recliner with rips in the armrests?
Make sure you have a good reason behind your choice. Don’t just pick something randomly. Consider who lives in that room, who owns that furniture. How would that character have decorated the room? What kind of furnishings would that character have bought for that location? If outdoors, why is the character in that place at that time? What’s the weather like?
Show the character’s reaction or response to the setting. What happens when she sits in the chaise lounge? looks out the dirty window? sees her home town for the first time in twenty years? What emotions do the puffy white clouds (or dark, ominous clouds) evoke?
Use as many senses as fit appropriately with the scene. If a character enters a kitchen, dining room, or restaurant, for example, describe the smells that greet him. How do those aromas affect him? Do they make him hungry? Nauseated? Homesick?
A particular setting can trigger memories in your character’s mind, providing you with the opportunity to reveal bits of backstory in a realistic manner. A well-described setting can trigger memories and emotions in your reader as well.