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How To Vividly Describe a Setting That You’ve Never Visited by Angela Ackerman
One of the big decisions writers are faced with is whether to choose a real location for the backdrop of their overall story, or create one of their own imagining. Crafting a world from scratch is a lot of work (requiring a deep understanding of the society, infrastructure, rules, governmental influence, as well as a million other details). But it also avoids a big problem associated with real-world locations: reader bias. This is when the reader’s own emotional ties to a place influence their reading experience.
Imagine your character is living in a neighborhood that a reader grew up in. Even if you carefully researched the setting, perhaps visited it yourself, people and places still change over time. Stores close, schools are torn down. Streets are renamed. Readers will expect the story world to match what they remember, and this isn’t always the case, causing a ripple in their reading experience.
Bias aside, there are many great reasons to place your story in the real world. Readers can slip into the action easier when they understand it takes place in Chicago or Amsterdam because they recognize these areas and can fill in blanks as far as how “big picture” society works.