While asking yourself these questions, don’t feel obligated to add each answer to every question. Don’t over explain for the sake of word count. Just add enough meaningful details to establish the setting. Create plenty of depth that the reader could put themselves in your character’s shoes.
At the beginning, as best you can, tell the era, age, century, or year.
1. What is the season?
2. What time of day is it?
3. What is the climate?
4. What do you notice about the weather?
5. What is the temperature?
6. What physical sensations result from the weather?
7. Are there any sounds associated with it?
8. Can you smell anything?
9. Does the weather arouse any feelings?
10. Does the continent, country, or region change?
11. Describe the terrain.
12. What is the ground like?
13. What color is it?
14. What is the texture?
15. When you pick up the dirt in your hands, how does it feel?
16. How does it smell?
17. How much of the bare dirt can you see?
18. What limits your range of vision?
19. If you look out and turn all around, what are the land’s distinguishing characteristics?
20. What indicators demonstrate wild or civilized aspects of the landscape?
21. What indicators demonstrate the care or carelessness of human presence?
22. How productive is the land?
23. What is growing?
24. In this landscape, what kind of work is possible or required?
25. What kind of play fits into the setting?
26. If you look from the ground up to the sky, does the sky seem near or far?
27. Is the sky illuminated in any way?
28. Is there any movement in the sky?
29. How broad is your view of the sky? What, if anything, constricts your view?
30. What’s the farthest you can see?
Change your point of view. If you are aware of height, imagine being much lower; if you are very low, place yourself higher.
Now describe the setting from a new vantage point :
31. What do you see when you turn around?
32. Has the temperature changed?
33. Can you hear something you didn’t hear before?
34. Are there any new scents?
35. When you extend your hands, can you touch anything?
36. Can you touch anything that was out of reach before?
37. What kinds of animals live here?
38. How do they feature in the story?
39. List any subtle or obvious threats to survival.
40. If a character were going to move within this landscape to a place where they would feel more safe, where would that be?
41. Why would it seem more safe there?
42. Which characters would feel safe in this place?
Move toward man-made shelters or buildings. What can you tell about this era or this age from the architecture.
43. Are there many buildings or just a few?
44. What is the style of architecture?
45. What building materials are used?
- design elements
46. Do the buildings blend in with the landscape or do they seem forced upon it?
47. Is the placement of the buildings useful?
48. How harmonious are the structures?
49. Energies created by environments influence the way we feel in them. At its best, the word “home” conjures up images of belonging, affection, warmth, and security: refuge from the elements and emotional protection with intimate ties to family and community. When a character enters his or her home, or an important building in the story, what is noticeable about the transition from outside to inside?
50. What is the primary purpose of this building?
51. How simple or complex is the layout of the building?
52. What seems to be valued here?
53. Is there a change in temperature?
54. What noise can be heard?
55. What texture does the silence have?
56. What does the air smell like?
57. Enter a room. How is it separated from the rest of the structure?
58. What is the first impression?
59. How cluttered or spare is the room?
60. How colorful is it?
61. Is the room warm and welcoming, or off-putting in some way?
62. What seems to be valued in the room?
63. How important are artifacts of status, social position, and material wealth?
64. What in this room connects its occupants to the natural environment?
65. Has the light changed?
66. What can be heard?
67. Is there a new scent?
68. Has the temperature changed?
69. Describe the furnishings.
70. Consider the level of comfort offered, in terms of size, proportion, color, texture.
71. Are the furnishings artificially contrived or natural for local conditions?
72. Is anything on the walls?
73. How is the room heated?
74. How is the room ventilated?
75. How fresh does the air feel?
76. What are the primary and secondary sources of light?
77. What reaction do the characters have to the dimness or brightness of the light?
78. Do the floors enhance the comfort of the room?
79. If there are coverings on the floor, what are they made of?
80. Where is food prepared?
81. How is it prepared?
82. What is being cooked?
83. How is food served?
84. How pleasant is the whole experience of cooking, serving, and eating a meal in this setting?
85. From walking around – both outside and within a dwelling – what can you surmise about the economics of the area?
86. What indicators of wealth and poverty are apparent outside and in?
87. What, if any, class distinctions are apparent?
88. How much time literally elapses during the story?
89. Metaphorically, how much time, in terms of growth and change, passes?
Language in a story indicates details of time and place. To become aware of this, retell the story through any stereotypical character, like a California “Valley Girl,” and you’ll hear where words or speech patterns collide.
90. What indicators of time and place are noticeable in the words and style of narrative sections?
91. What indicators are noticeable in the characters’ speech?
92. Overall, how formal/colloquial is the language used?
93. What group distinctions are reinforced in the way characters speak to one another?
94. What can you surmise about secular and religious values of this time and place?
95. During the process, have your assessments of the fundamental values changed?
96. How does setting function in your story?
97. What indicators of era and locale would appear in a mural of the story?
98. What about the time and place binds the characters together?
99. What is important historically about the time and place of your story?
100. What about this time and place makes you want to return to it repeatedly?
Best wishes in your story-telling,