When we're writing, we focus a lot on the plot and the characters, making them as rich and interesting as we can. But we also need to think about the world in which these characters live, to make their worlds more than words on a page.
Every writer will have their own way of transferring the vivid worlds in their imagination to the page, and I thought I'd share three ways which work for me.
Before you start writing a scene, stop and think about the setting. What can your characters see? What can they smell or even feel? If they're in a department store, for example, maybe it's hot, with the cloying smell of perfume that sticks in the back of your throat. There's chatter around, maybe music playing, a rainbow of nail polishes on the shelf. Close your eyes and image yourself in the setting. Jot down a few details that you can weave into the story.
I use the Urban Setting and Rural Setting Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi to help. They list lots of sights, sounds, smells for popular settings.
I always find it useful to set up a Pinterest board (or ten) when I start writing a book, to help visualise the world I'm creating. The boards can help set a mood, help to build up characters, and it's always helpful to describe a place or object that you can see in front of you.
When I was starting to plan my thirteenth book, I wasn't sure who my main character was, so I was playing around on Pinterest when I found a picture of a woman wearing a pretty quirky mishmash of colours, and I thought yes! This is what Zoey would wear. But what kind of person wears a royal blue jumper with a pumpkin-orange skirt and a green coat with oversized buttons? Thinking about the outfit and who would wear it really helped me to shape who Zoey became and the world she lived in.
I always find it helpful to sketch out a little map of the area I'm setting a book in, especially as I use the same areas for different books. It helps me to get a sense of the place, and I also know what I named the pubs and where I put them in previous books!
My maps aren't anything fancy - sometimes they're pen outlines scribbled down on the back of my character sheets or, if I'm feeling particularly techy, I copy them out into Paint. Which isn't techy at all, and nor are they artistic, but nobody else is going to see them so it doesn't matter.
I've also sketched out the basic layout of characters' houses if I've thought it would help. Again, they're nothing artistic, just a reminder of where the bathroom is, whether it has open plan living etc.