Location is, of course, an essential element in any scene. The nature of the location, and the frequency with which it may appear, governs how the location should be described. The depth, the detail, invested in providing a description of any location must be carefully gauged. It’s necessary to let the reader know what a place is like, but it may also pay to leave some blanks, to let the reader conjure up a vision that will be uniquely their own.
There are times when descriptive passages can be very detailed. This is especially true when the scene is beyond any possibility of familiarity. Alien or fantasy worlds are a case in point. There’s a need, in such cases, to create a sense of wonder. It’s where you can really go wild. You have the opportunity to exercise your imagination in a way that can seldom be found elsewhere. Of course, you do have to be sensible, too. Your world must have its own logic. You can’t, for example, have an active volcanic region without clouds of dust spreading far and wide. You can’t have scorchingly hot deserts beside polar ice caps.
The tone of your location descriptions will also impact on the atmosphere of any scenes. Sultry heat will suggest a lethargy about the inhabitants. Cold, wet landscapes with frequent overcast skies and rainfall will tend to be depressive. Bright sun over verdant lands will hint at happy, well fed people. Cityscapes tend to lend a hard edge to the denizens. Landscapes and their natural climates are mood modifiers.
When you’ve written a location description, pause. Go back to it at some point and read it. Does it truly set the scene? Can you gain a glimpse of that place? If it’s a real place that you know well, can you genuinely recognise it from your description? If you’ve done the job properly, the answers will be yes. If not, don’t be afraid to edit it, until you’re satisfied. A poor, or lazy, location description is as damaging as stilted, cliché-ridden dialogue! It really is worth investing effort in this element.
Personally, when I’m writing about an important location, I try my hardest to actually imagine myself there. I make every effort to feel the place. I find that I can afford to lose myself in the place completely. If I end up with a description that’s too lengthy, it can always be reduced. Failing to imagine enough detail makes expansion difficult, to say the least.
Be bold. Dare to create accurate descriptions that make the world real! Even short stories deserve a measure of well crafted location setting.
Well, I hope I’ve given you food for thought.