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!

On world building and how to avoid the “info-dump”

Hello gentle reader,

It’s Friday, let’s talk about writing and Fantasy, shall we?

Before I started querying my novel The Last Queen, I researched agents and the reasons why they reject A LOT of High/Epic Fantasy manuscripts. Most of the time, their verdict is: too much info-dump in the first pages. It means that instead of artfully weaving the secondary world into the story, the writer buries the reader under a heap of information. Agents and readers? They don’t like it, especially if your novel is intended for young adults.


We are bored.

So today, I’d like to help you avoid painful rejections or reviews by sharing a few tips on world building and how to eliminate the dreaded “info-dump” in 3 steps…

Step 1: Recognizing the “info-dump”

Let’s say you’ve been told your novel is “plagued by info-dump”. It’s not nice to hear, but we’re here to learn and make our stories better, aren’t we? So how do you recognize the signs of “info-dumping”? You ask yourself the following questions:

–          Does your Epic Fantasy novel include long descriptive passages where absolutely nothing happens and whose sole purpose is, well, to describe stuff?

–          Do your characters have conversations about things they already know? Is the sole purpose of these conversations to give information to the reader?

–          Do you explain your world to the reader instead of showing it to him?

If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions, then you’re guilty of info-dumping. But fear not, gentle reader! You can FIX THAT.


I don’t see how this situation can be fixed.

Step 2: Fixing the “info-dump” problem

The key here is to avoid the aforementioned issues by making your world building integral to the plot and having it emerge as the story unfolds. Your readers need to be slowly immersed into the world you created, not banged on the head with it. How do you do that?

–          You focus on the plot and the action. Instead of spending a chapter describing the Big Castle, you have your Hero escape from said castle and, as he is being chased by the Bad Guys, you include a few details that give the reader an idea of the setting, through the MC’s eyes.

–          As a result, you can’t describe everything. Because you only include the few details that your hero sees as he runs through the corridors of the castle, you can’t tell the reader about all the castle’s turrets and secret passageways. And it’s fine! Because even with only the few details you give him, your reader will be able to imagine the rest. Trust him.

But as you delete all the info-dump and replace it with a few chosen details, how do you know what to focus on?


I’m listening.

Step 3: Focusing on the details that matter

So you’re building your secondary world by showing it as the story unfolds, awesome! But what to focus on? You focus on the details that matter for the specific scene/action you’re writing. And there’s so much to choose from, it’s easy to find something that will be a nice touch of world building in your scene without appearing to be world building to the reader. Here is what you can mention in passing and that will help you build your world:

–          Natural elements: flora and fauna, rocks and animals, bugs and creatures…

–          Political elements

–          Cultural elements: religion, mythology, language

–          Historical and geographical elements

–          And if all else fails, as we say in England, mention the weather.

Hoping this helps, feel free to leave me your comments and questions below! (This blog post was sponsored by A Series of Unfortunate Events. Or not.)

And if you want to find out more about this topic, here are a few useful links:

Juliet Marillier talks about creating Fantasy Worlds…

World Building: In the Beginning… by Raewyn Hewitt

How to Dump Info without Info-dumping– Writing Lessons from Inception by Shallee McArthur

World-Building 201: How to eliminate the info-dump by Hayley E Lavik