Sanctum is set in a city that is essentially purgatory for people who have committed suicide, a place that is an embodiment of despair and depression. So … it’s dark. But not just that—any available light is weak. Greenish rather than white or yellow. Colors: dull. Noises: muted. The air: damp, settling heavy on the skin, vaguely sour. Scents: thin, nothing extreme. Garbage fills the alleys. Mold grows on the carpets and streaks the walls. Don’t get me started on the food.
In nearly every scene, there’s some small sensory reminder of where the characters are. Not a paragraph, not even a full sentence most of the time, but something to keep the gravity of the place in place. I worked very hard to create a visceral, engrossing world for readers, and though it’s not a pleasant one, the descriptions align with the purpose of the place. But also, any emotional contrast—joy, hope, love—should be striking andspecial, like a flower sprouting out of a crumbling sidewalk. What I wanted was to use description of setting to deepen the emotional impact, both positive and negative. Whether I succeeded or not is up to the readers.
So how about you? Do you use physical setting to augment the emotional tone of your story? Do you tend to use contrast, congruence, or both? Care to share an example? And when you’re reading, when is setting description too much, and when do you find yourself hungering for more?
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