Whether you’re writing a fantasy, dystopian, or sci fi story (or anything else), setting is important. And having a clear picture of what your setting is like is also very important.

Last week, my family took a trip to the gardens nearby us (nearby, as in 40 minutes away). We walked through them for a few hours, but the part that I most liked was the Japanese section.

Now, among the many, many story/character ideas I have an idea for one certain boy—Akio Hirai—and he’s a fantasy twist on Japanese. Walking through the Japanese gardens was amazing and I had so many thoughts and ideas running through my head. I could imagine Akio standing just over there, or crouched by the water, or fast asleep in that patch of shade under that tree.

{Akio’s aesthetic collage}

I grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and I started scrawling down the inspirations and scenes and glimpses that were coming to me as I just looked around.

 

Obviously, sometimes it isn’t always possible to travel to the exact location of your story. (Interplanetary sci fi anyone? 😛 ) Travelling costs time and money, but don’t discount it right away.

If part of your story takes place in a forest, find a forest near you. So what if the forest in your story is in the middle of Europe and you live in the United States? Something just similar can still help you immensely.

Why bother though? You can just find pictures, right? True. But you can’t find everything in a picture. Actually going to someplace similar to your setting has many benefits.

1: You get to breathe your setting

It’s not just scrolling through pinterest and picking out a picture you like. It’s experiencing it for yourself. Walking through that city or garden is so much more inspiring than just staring at a screen. a) You actually get exercise and move around from your desk and b) you can immerse yourself into the story setting so much deeper.

Walking through the Japanese gardens, I could just see scenes of my story being played out around me. Scenes I didn’t even know existed (it’s only a character idea, not plotted or anything yet) acted out in front of my eyes as I frantically tried to scribble them onto the paper fast enough.

A faint breeze played fingers through his hair and rustled the leaves of the trimmed tree beside him.
Almost like a soft farewell.

 

2: It’s much easier to describe

Youtube is all very well but if you’ve been to the actual place your story is set, or a place like it, it’s 10000% easier to describe than if you’re just looking at pictures. Even better, while you’re at the place, grab a pencil and paper! Write a small description of a few different parts. I filled a page with just one sentence descriptions of the things I saw.

Paths wound between bushes—grey stone beside leaves as red as the sunset.

You can stare at the trees and think of all the words you’d use to describe how it feels when you brush against it. Or stand by the waterfall and close your eyes and come up with the phrases and words to convey how powerful the crashing of water sounded from so close. There is so much more depth that can come out through your writing when you’ve experienced it for yourself.

 

3: You can show it more realistically

Pictures can be deceiving—they don’t show you everything there is to a city or a garden or a farm. But being there in person you can see the glorious details and the gritty.

The city isn’t just towering buildings—there’s small houses with tiny, cramped backyards that aren’t big enough to have a picnic in. The garden isn’t just perfect in every way—people have to weed it, and prune it, and water it.

Judging off of pictures and photos, sure you can write a spooky forest. But the pictures don’t give you how beautiful the same forest looks at sunrise with the mist twining about the branches and sparkling drops of golden dew. If you’ve actually been there, you can show more than just one aspect. You can really delve into the setting and do it justice.

A trellis dripped with purple blossoms beneath the steady hum of bees.

And added onto all that, you get to make memories. You can act out your story. You can just sit and watch and listen and enjoy.

 

Have you ever been to a place that looks like your story setting? What methods do you have for researching your storyworld? Comment, and let’s chat!

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