Writing fiction is more than listing events and dialog that tell a story. The writer must create a world for the reader to enter—a world with sights and sounds, smells and tastes. The characters in that world must seem real. Their individual quirks, mannerisms, and speech patterns should, by the end of the story, make the reader feel familiar with them, as though those characters actually entered real life.
A big part of creating a fictional world is being specific in your descriptions. Instead of “tree,” say “maple” or “birch” and show it to us. Are the leaves just budding, turning color, or falling off?
Most readers are visual and you always need to give them something to “see.” I frequently notice problems in scenes with a great deal of dialogue. Yes, your readers are listening to what your characters are saying, but the readers haven’t gone blind in the meantime. Even during conversations the speakers are doing something. Whether it’s frowning, drumming their fingers, picking lint off their sleeves, sighing, shrugging—you get the idea. Show the readers what they would see if this were a movie. Don’t forget the other senses either. Is the fire crackling, the wind howling, the sun setting, or the dog barking? Does the room smell of fresh flowers or stale cigars? Always try to involve as many senses as reasonably possible in every scene.
If your characters are talking in a room, make sure the room has furniture. Let the readers “see” the tables and chairs, the lamps and plants, and the characters’ relation to them. Is one character sitting on the arm of a chair? Is the other looking out the window, his back to his companion?
Here’s an exercise to help make your fictional world seem real: The next time you have a conversation with someone, notice the details mentioned above, and then try to recreate that scene on paper.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.