Setting and Storyworld

Bridge leading into the woods

Story world

Story world, quite simply, is the world your story takes place in. In Star Wars, it’s a galaxy far, far way. In my book, Coming Home, it’s 1881 Oregon. It can be as complex as an invented world or as simple as the street blocks between home and school. But a different story world will create a different type of story at every level.


How are your readers going to know your story world unless you tell them about it, right? Wrong. Long (or even short) amounts of description just for its own sake pulls your reader out of the emotional experience. It’s like taking them aside to explain things. Again, if they are in your hero’s skin, they will experience it with your hero. Reveal it like bread crumbs, just dropping a bit as it’s needed.


One of the best ways to let us know that we are in the hero’s skin is through the senses. When you are editing a scene, think a moment about what information all five senses are giving your POV character. Sight and touch are easy and the most overused. But what about smell and taste? You can pull on deep emotions with those. They often evoke strong memories, and you can use that to your advantage. Don’t forget about hearing too.

However, you don’t want a laundry list of all the senses. When you are taking stock, think about which two senses will evoke the greatest emotional experience for your reader. Where in the scene would be the best place to put those senses? Where would they evoke the strongest reaction?

The key is not to just include the senses for the sake of it. But to give them to the reader as a clue as to how the hero is feeling. It all comes back to feelings. The more we know what the hero is feeling, the more we can relate and feel like we are there and in her skin.

Warning: only include things the character can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Don’t write “if only she knew what was waiting for her around the corner.” She can’t see it, so she doesn’t know about it. Neither do we. “She didn’t notice the car following her.” If she didn’t notice it, neither did we.

Even if she can see it, do you need to include it? If you tell us about something, we are going to think it’s important and relevant. So only mention the book on the sidewalk if it’s going to be important or if it’s important that your character noticed it.

Now, what does your character do with this information? Sometimes it’s enough to mention the smell of Mom’s apple pie. But what about a math book laying open on the sidewalk in front of the house? What does your hero think about that? What does she think it means? Is she confused, scared, mad, happy? How would your hero view it differently than other characters? The interpretation of the sense stimulus is just as important the stimulus itself.

Writing emotion follows naturally from writing about the senses because the senses often trigger emotions. And we need to treat writing about them the same way.

Like with any writing exercise, the first step is to just write and be in your creative brain. Then when you’ve had time to let it sit, go back with the editor brain. Be as concrete and descriptive as you can be. Go over every adverb. Can you make the verb stronger? Can you say it in a fresh way?

I bet you can. Now go write something awesome!

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