Sense of Place
J.V. Jones
Jan 12th : 2008

How does one convey a sense of place in as few words as possible? If youíre writing a story where pacing is important (ie a thriller or detective novel) you donít want to slow down the narrative while you describe a setting in elaborate detail. Words are currency. Spend wisely. Whether youíre describing a well-known city such as Las Vegas or a fantasy world thatís entirely a figment of your imagination you, the writer, must have a clear mental image of your setting.
Command of your setting is gained by knowledge and familiarity. If youíre lucky enough to be writing a story set in your hometown then youíre already ahead. If you are setting your story in an unfamiliar place then youíll have work on your hands. Look at photographs, read firsthand accounts and history, visit the place in question, or if thatís not possible visit places that share similarities. Over time youíll become confident of your setting. Itís this confidence thatís convincing. Readers pick up on it. We know when _you_ know what youíre talking about.

Once you have a body of knowledge in place, choose your details carefully. And sparingly. Yes, itís a shame to learn so much and not be able to demonstrate the vast amounts of knowledge youíve accumulated but thatís what professional writers do. How can we pick a telling and original detail unless we do our homework? Generic details--NY city is busy, Louisiana is steamy, desert nights are full of stars--fail to convey a unique sense of place. Facts repeated too often lose their power. As readers we skip past them. Itís a writers job to pick details that evoke a particular sense of place and time, ones that readers can use as springboards for their own imaginations.