Bringing together a sense of the way your setting appeared in the past as well as the present and even how it will appear in the future, brings a sense of depth to your storytelling.
People are attracted to motion, particularly physical motion. But when describing a setting, some things are pretty resistant to moving. Houses, mountains, trees, and so on remain static. I’ve talked about some ways that you can work around that problem. You can put things in motion around a house, for example, or you can describe the motionless object using metaphors or similes that provide an illusion of motion.
You can even talk about your character’s emotions, their changing feelings about a thing, and create an illusion of motion that way. For example, you might have your narrator say, “Charlie had always hated pubs, with their smell of spilled ale and stuffy tobacco smoke, until he entered the Hart and Hound, and found a place that somehow reminded him of a home he’d never had.”
One great tool for bringing a place to life, though, is to give it a sense of temporal motion. By that, I mean that we might talk about its past or its future, as well as its present. For example, in describing a car, you might say, “The pearlescent sheen had faded from Mark’s Maxima. After seven years, he no longer saw the car as it was, but as he remembered it, gleaming white on the lot, with motes of blue and sparkles of red deep beneath the wax, so that when you looked at it, you couldn’t help but feel that you were peering into it, and seeing that the soul of the machine was pure and glorious.”
Do you see how we described the car as it was, comparing it to a duller present? We can even take it into the future. “The new car smell was gone, even to the most discerning nose, and all that was left in the cab was a waft of aging leather, a tinge of sweat, and the sun-baked vinyl of the dashboard. Someday soon, the car would begin to smell of its own decay, like an animal’s corpse. Even now, Mike could sense it coming, and it was a dull ache.”
When describing anything—a setting, a character, or even a conflict—consider ways that you might bring that thing to life by describing both its past and its future.
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