Writing and How To Create A Vivid Setting

Hello gentle reader,

I haven’t been writing or blogging a lot lately, but I have been reading. And I’ve been disappointed by a couple of books, because of their setting. Or lack thereof.

If you’re a writer trying to get published, you may have received rejections that stated your world building needed work, or your setting wasn’t vivid enough.

Today I’m giving a few pointers to create a well-realised setting, one that will draw your readers in and bring the places you describe to life.

Step 1: Identify your setting’s weaknesses

–          Your book suffers from the “We could be anywhere” syndrome

I read this book that was set in Chicago. Halfway through it, I had to go back to the beginning, because I couldn’t remember if it took place in Chicago or New York City. That’s how vague the setting was. In your own manuscript, ask yourself if your story could take place anywhere else. If the answer is yes, it means that your plot and your story aren’t interwoven enough: there needs to be a reason why this story happens in this specific place (whether it is a small town in rural America or London).


–          Your descriptions are clichéd

I recently read another book, which was set in Paris. To my dismay, the author seemed to think that mentioning the Eiffel Tower here and having a character talk about Montmartre there was enough to set the scene. With your story, ask yourself if you’ve researched your setting enough to avoid describing what everyone already knows about that place.

 Gossip Girl Paris

–          Your descriptions are boring

I read another book, which was set in a US high school. This is a tricky setting, because, well, we’ve all been to school and watched countless films/TV shows about teenagers at school. What you want to avoid here is a bland description: classrooms, bleachers, bathroom… If your story takes place in a very familiar place, ask yourself if you’ve described what makes it special in the eyes of your characters (whether good or bad). Ask yourself if your setting has personality.


Step 2: Create a great setting

–          Avoid setting each scene in “anonymous” places such as hotel rooms, random streets, nameless restaurants, etc. This is especially important if you’ve chosen to set your story in an exciting big city. As a reader, there’s nothing more frustrating than being sold a book “set in Tokyo” and have the characters spend all their time in a non-descript apartment, for example.

–          Do your research. Do A LOT of research. Your book will have two types of readers: the ones who have been to the place you describe, and therefore expect an accurate description, and the ones who haven’t been there, who deserve a description that will give them the chance to explore a place where they might never go. If you’re choosing to set your story in a well-know place, I tend to think that you should visit it yourself, to avoid clichés and to give your descriptions your own flavour. When it’s not possible, read widely about your setting, and make sure you write about what makes it unique and what makes it come alive.

–          Make your setting come alive by using all the senses: help you reader experience the whole of your setting. Help him see it, but also smell it, hear it, touch it and even taste it.

–          Avoid long descriptions: better focus on a few specific and striking details than write a boring one-page paragraph. Give the places’ names, and point out what makes them unforgettable.


Reading recommendations:

–          For a great example of a setting and a plot that blend together: THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray

–          For a great example of a book set in Paris that avoids all the clichés: DIE FOR ME by Amy Plum

What about you? Do you have trouble writing vivid settings? Do you have examples of setting done well in literature? Make sure to share your thoughts below!

New Project Reveal – Part 1: The Setting

Hello gentle reader,

today I’m taking part in the Tursday’s Children meme hosted by Rhiann Wynn-Nolet and Kristina Perez. It is “a weekly blog hop where writers come together to talk about whatever inspires them.”


I have decided to join this meme to share a little bit more about what I’ve been working on, a YA Historical Fantasy I have teasingly nicknamed Secret WIP. I have been getting a lot of questions about it, especially on Twitter, so I have come up with the idea of a “Project Reveal” in 4 parts, that will give you a taste of what Secret WIP is all about over the next few weeks.

Today’s theme is : SETTING.

My novel takes place in London, during the Victorian era. I am lucky enough to live near London, which means whenever I need to research a location, I can hop on a train, go to London and take pictures. All the pictures below are therefore mine…

EM Castellan - Whitechapel

Whitechapel, London

My main character moves about London a lot, and she can be found in the morning in East London, at noon at Covent Garden and in the evening at St James’s. Above and below are pictures of the Whitechapel district, made famous by Jack The Ripper at the end of the 19th Century.

EM Castellan - Spiltafields Market

Spitalfields Market

EM Castellan - Fournier St

Fournier Street (with the Ten Bells Pub and Christ Church)

Then if we travel west we arrive at St Paul’s Cathedral…

EM Castellan - St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral

Then we reach West London, wealthier and more grand…

EM Castellan - St James's Square

St James’s Square

EM Castellan- Russell Hotel

Russell Square

So this is where my new project takes place! I hope this gives you a taste of what’s to come in my Secret WIP…

What is the setting of your Work In Progress? Do you find inspiration in the places you visit or where you live? Feel free to leave me a comment below, and to visit the other Thursday’s Children posts here.