Enhance Your Setting Descriptions

mcallisters-ny-apartmentDon’t you love this condo? I picked this out for Patricia Talbert’s parents in Ride to the Altar. It’s in a modern building on Park Avenue. Bet you already know how I found it. I went searching through New York real estate sites. The site gave several pictures inside this home, including kitchen and bath, and gave some great description. For instance, if I hadn’t known already that the floor is set in a herringbone pattern, the site told me so.

What was so wonderful about this site is that it also provided a floor plan:park-imperial-floorplan

This helps me conceptualize the apartment even better. Which is why I need it—I’ve never been to New York, much less inside a rich New York apartment.

Although I had a hard time capturing the images, I was able to plug the address to this place into Google Maps to find it, see the building it’s housed in, and peek at the surrounding area. I know, for instance, how far this is from the Hudson River and the Lincoln Center. I even know which streets around it are one-way. I also know that there’s a Wendy’s not too far away, which is important to Talon Carlson, who isn’t all that interested in New York cuisine.

There’s a caveat to all this: It’s fun. It’s engrossing. It’ll Hoover up the daylight as surely as if God took an eraser to the sun.

For instance, while I was hunting a home for Patricia’s parents, I found one in the suburbs for Marie Lambeau Davis’s parents:


Unfortunately, that’s as large as I can make this one without distorting the image, but it’s great, isn’t it? Thanks to Google Maps, I know exactly how far it is from Marie’s family home to Patricia’s, and what is the best mode of transportation to get there. I also know that Forest Hills is an upper-middle class neighborhood in the borough of Queens. And, while I explored the neighborhood, I could even pick out Marie’s favorite restaurant.

The real estate site I found the house on had tons of pictures of the grounds and interior, but it wasn’t quite as good about giving description. That’s when I relied on other things. For instance, if I didn’t already know this was a Tudor-style home, homeplans.com  would help me figure it out.

What I didn’t know was what to call the style of this gorgeous staircase inside:


One of my go-to sites for things like this is the oddly named Buffalo as an Architectural Museum. It has a list of architectural terms—such as “staircase” (how handy!)—and using this, I discovered this staircase is most likely Queen Anne. The problem with this site of architectural terms and other sites like it is that you almost need to know what something is called before you can find its definition and description.

All of this took tons of time to explore. By the time I felt like I knew everything I needed to know, my work day was done.

So, how much detail do I really need? In a way, all of it.

To use it all in one place in my manuscript would be an information dump—dry and boring for the reader. But when I take snippets of my research and drop them in as needed, I provide the reader with a richer experience. Concrete descriptions help visualization. A sense of neighborhood provides a sense of familiarity. A sense of distance also lends to a sense of time.

Building a story world is important, even when your world is not in a fantasy or on some distant planet. It enhances the readers’ experience, giving them a sense of actually being in the setting. And enhancing reading experience is part of our job description.

What tricks do you have to develop your story world?


About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in write tips, Writing, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Enhance Your Setting Descriptions

  1. I have a great book of Pre-War Apartment and /or rent-controlled apartments in NYC. Angie Hunt used it for one or two of her books and I bought one. I love the older apartment buildings, especially those in Manhattan as opposed to Brooklyn, Queens, etc. Here’s the link. http://www./dp/048625318X .


  2. I do much the same. Google gives us world views we could never afford to do in person, at least not on my budget!. I sometimes will also use some inforamative blogs on travel if I want a little bit more personal descriptions, like smells and tastes, when I feel I need it. I feel like I have lived in Spokane WA for years, although I have never been there (location for my series).


    • Sounds, smells, and flavors are best experienced, I think. Too bad I won’t be going to New York to experience them. Sigh. But travel blogs are great resources. Thanks for the tip!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, nothing can replace personal experience, but sometimes we gotta find a way to fake it. Usually, I try to find a location I’ve been to that is close enough for me to interject my experiences and then use other references to validate. Not perfect, but better than a wild guess! (Sort of). 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  3. K.M. Weiland says:

    I love floor plans when planning settings! I’m horrible at holding physical spaces in my head, so floor plans are an excellent way to make sure I’m being consistent in the setting details.


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