One of the first things that usually comes to mind when writing a story is environment/setting. This is especially true for the fantasy genre, since most fantasy stories revolve around made up worlds. But for some reason, this also tends to be the one area where good writing is typically lacking.
My theory as to the source of this lack of description is the fact that many writers experience the rush of ideas, and since we can think (and picture) an environment much quicker than we can jot it down on paper or type it out in a word processor, the details end up being sparse when we finally do get it down. So how does this affect the reader's perception of a story? What other elements of a story does it affect? How can writers compensate for this rather common circumstance?
Without a decently written environment, both believability and mood of a story will suffer. If the physical environment/setting of a scene (or whole world) is hard for the reader to picture, they might get frustrated and become uninterested in the book. There are some that believe leaving the details up to the reader is a good way to connect with the reader, giving them some control. I say that idea is pure nonsense and an excuse for the author's laziness and/or lack of writing ability. As far as mood goes, it will be hard to pick up on if enough details of an environment aren't provided. The combination of conveying how a character feels along with a clear description of their surroundings and current situation can go quite a long way. It's what makes the difference between someone reading your book, and someone being engaged in it. A good book will always draw the reader in and provide a necessary escape.
In order to prevent environmental sparseness, first work to prevent the problem, then solve any traces of it that exist the best you can. Here a few handy tips:
- Keep a notebook with you wherever you go. If an idea strikes you, jot it down immediately. Include as much detail and description as you can possibly can. No matter how much you think you will remember later, it will never be as clear as the moment the idea first plants itself inside your brain.
- Make an outline of your story, including the physical environment. I know that I've reiterated this point in several blogs, but the clearer the structure of your world, the less likely you are to forget any of it or misconstrue it. Consistency = believability and credibility.
- After writing a scene, go back and edit it. Examine it both in the context of the whole story and the surrounding scenes. Try to approach it as someone who has never seen the text before, then fill in the missing pieces. Add detail as necessary and take out any repetitive material. Replace weak verbs with strong ones, and steer clear of clichéd adjectives/colors.
- Use the added features to enhance the mood of the scene. Especially when combined with sensory details, well-written context of a setting can convey a strong mood and clear emotions of characters involved. When achieved, the reader will be completely immersed the text.
- Have someone else whom you trust, who hasn't yet seen the scene/story, take a look at the piece. Ask them for specific feedback and if there are any places where the description is lacking.
- If you have a whole story or several scenes that require editing, break it down into manageable chunks. Set deadlines for yourself to work on them, and have someone hold you accountable for those deadlines.
Expect to do a lot of rewrites. No writing is good writing the first time around. It takes many, many drafts and attempts at editing to get a piece exactly right, even if it's just one scene. Preventative measures for bad writing are the most effective of course, but edits will always be necessary eventually. As Dory from the movie Finding Nemo might say: Just keep writing, just keep writing.