Jul 08 2009
1. Focus on details that develop a character. For example, it’s not so interesting that your hero’s bedroom has a dresser. What can the dresser tell us about the character? If he’s such a neat-freak that he even sorts and folds his underwear, that helps build his personality.
2. Use sensory details and props to develop a mood. For example, let’s say you’re describing a hospital. Is it clean and professional like the Mayo Clinic? Or is it seedy and dangerous like a Tijuana chopshop? Is it primal and raw like a shaman’s hut? What do the patients look and smell like? What sort of medical implements are on hand? How do the staff and receptionists behave? What does the place smell like? Are there any noticeable sounds? What are the bathrooms like? Etc.
3. Mood and character development often go hand in hand. For example, Superman’s Metropolis is clean and generally looks inspiring. Its most distinctive building is a newspaper office. In contrast, the most distinctive building in Gotham City is an insane asylum. Batman can’t throw a batarang across the street without hitting a hooker or a crack dealer. Spooky Gothic architecture is everywhere.
4. Use the scenery to make the scene interactive. For example, if your heroes are fighting a speedy villain in a typical mall, the heroes could set off the sprinklers. That will make it harder for the villain to keep his footing. Using the scenery helps remind the reader that the story is happening somewhere real, not in a vacuum. It can also make the characters seem clever and impressive.
5. Please avoid overdoing the scenery, particularly if it’s generic. For example, let’s say I’m writing about a character that works at a typical grocery store, just like the one in your neighborhood. It doesn’t need much description, and the description probably isn’t very interesting. In contrast, if the grocery store is a dystopian perversion of the grocery stores in your neighborhood, then more description is probably warranted. For example, the manager likes to keep fruits stocked in the front of the store so that he can wing apples at any of the cashiers that fall asleep on the job.