Monday, October 21, 2019

How To Create A Vivid Experience With Setting Descriptions

by Rayne Hall

(British English Spelling)
Are your place descriptions exciting parts of your story, or do they feel like clunky disruptions to the plot? Here's a powerful writing technique for making them flow and pulling the reader in.

Many writers make the mistake of describing places the way they see them, or the way most people do. The trick is to show the location in the way the story's point-of-view character sees it.

First, identify the point-of-view character of the scene. Through whose eyes, ears and thoughts do you want the reader to experience this part of the story? Show the setting from this character's perspective.

If ten people walk down the same road, all ten will notice something different. When you visualise the place, pick not the details you would see, but the ones the character would. This way, setting descriptions become part of the characterisation.

Let's look at some practical examples. Imagine several characters strolling down the same road in a British town.

Consider these factors:

1. The Character's Job

A person who spends day after day, year after year looking at everything in a certain way will automatically assess everything in this manner, even in his leisure time.

Strolling down a road, the architect sees a row of Victorian terraced houses with bay windows, some with modern double glazing, some with rotting window frames. The health and safety inspector walking down the same road notices the overflowing rubbish bins and the dog turds steaming on the pavement. The burglar observes that half the houses have intruder alarms and motion-sensor floodlights.

2. The character's hobbies

Most people immediately notice anything related to their hobbies. Spend a moment contemplating what interest's the PoV character.

If she's an animal lover, she sees people walking their bull terriers, and a grey squirrel sitting on a fence. The hobby gardener sees neglected front gardens, overgrown with borage and brambles, and front steps here potted geraniums have died from neglect. The car enthusiast sees battered Citroens parked on the roadside.

3. The Character's Relationships

A mother sees the unsupervised children playing on the pavement, and broken toys. A young man who's fallen in love with a blonde girl, who drives a red Vauxhall, will see red Vauxhall cars and blondes everywhere.

4. The Character's Obsessions

What does your PoV character obsess about? You can convey his state of mind through setting descriptions.

A local politician desperate to get re-elected observes how many voters probably live in this road, and that potholes and defective street lighting are likely concerns. A recovering drug addict struggling against his cravings notices a smell of marijuana. A woman who is desperate to get pregnant sees mothers pushing prams.

5. The character's Dominant Sense

Is one sense especially acute in this character, either by nature or by training?

Walking down a rainy road, a vision-oriented painter will see the spreading circles on the surfaces of puddles, while a drummer will hear the rhythm of the drops hammering on the car roofs.

Deepening the PoV

Leave out filter words which create a barrier between the PoV and the reader: I/he/she/ saw/heard/smelled/noticed/could see/could hear/could smell etc. Although these words are not wrong, they're not needed once you've established who the PoV character of the scene is. It's best to use them sparingly.

Here are some examples.

Shallow PoV: She heard a motor whine in the distance.
Deep PoV: A motor whined in the distance.

Shallow PoV: He realised that the hum came from a combine harvester.
Deep PoV: The hum came from a combine harvester.

Shallow PoV: He could see waves crashing against the shore.
Deep PoV: Waves crashed against the shore.

The deeper the PoV, the more powerful the reader's experience.

Writing the Actual Descriptions

Less is more. Keep your setting descriptions short, because readers tend to skip lengthy descriptive paragraphs.

Don't dump all the setting descriptions at the beginning of the scene, but sprinkle them, two sentences here, three there.

Don't rely exclusively on visual impressions. A sentence describing smells evokes the place more strongly than a whole paragraph about visuals. Sounds add excitement and don't slow the pace like visual do.

A Practical Assignment

Who is the PoV of the scene you're writing or revising? What are his or her job, hobbies, obsessions and dominant sense? Therefore, in the scene you're working on, what will he or she notice about the setting?

If you like, post your answer in the comments section, and I'll try to reply.

As the author of the bestselling Writer's Craft guides, she answers writing-related questions on Twitter,  posts articles online, coaches authors, edits books, speaks at conferences and teaches online classes.

She has been working in the publishing industry for three decades, as a trainee publishing manager, editorial assistant, magazine editor, investigative journalist, production editor, literary agent, and publishing consultant. In between, and often at the same time, she has been a museum guide, adult education teacher, development aid worker, apple picker, trade fair hostess, translator, belly dancer, and tarot reader.  

Now she is a professional writer, with more than sixty books published under several pen names (mostly Rayne Hall), in several genres (mostly fantasy, horror, historical and non-fiction), by several publishers (and indie-published), in several languages.

After living in Germany, China, Mongolia, Nepal, and Britain, she is now based in Bulgaria where she enjoys visiting ancient Roman ruins and hot springs, going for walks in the countryside, permaculture gardening and training her cats.  If you find this article helpful and want to study the subject in greater depth, Rayne's books Writing Deep Point of View (  and Writing Vivid Settings  ( will teach you professional-level techniques.  

Sulu the lucky black cat (adopted from a cat rescue shelter) recommends them.
Rayne on Goodreads  Twitter  Rayne's Website   Rayne Hall Independent Author Network 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Tips for Using Instagram as an Author


Do you use Instagram?

We do.
Check out our profile page here: The IWSG on Instagram

A while back, I created a post on using Instagram. I thought I knew so much. I thought I was helpful. Well, I've learned a bit more since then.

Here are my new and revised tips for using Instagram from "how-to" specifics to "what to post" and "how to engage."

How to Create an Instagram Post

Instagram is a Smart-phone based app. On your PC, Instagram can be found online, but it’s impossible to use it fully via computer. 

The specifics:
1. Take a picture with your phone and share it via Instagram. (There are three ways to share. I’ll get into those next.) Note that Instagram likes things in the “square” format so you may have to edit your photo.

2. Create an image with an app on your phone – Canva and Textgram are two that I’ve used. 

3. Create an image (jpg) with a program on your PC. After creating the image, e-mail it to your phone (hoping you have this capability). Then, share it via Instagram.

4. (Use With GREAT Caution). Take a screenshot of an image you would like to re-share – like the IWSG logo! Then, share it to your Instagram feed. Remember to get permission if you are going to share artwork or photography that is personal to an artist or photographer. Be sure to give a shout-out to the original in your post.

Three Ways to Share on Instagram: 

1. Feed – this goes directly to your “wall” of your Instagram feed and shows up on the feed of anyone who follows you. Always share the posts you really want people to see here.

2. Stories – this goes to the Story section at the top of the page. Followers have to poke that button to see your current story. You can share fun posts about your daily life, or follow the New York Public Library's recent example and post actual stories you've written. I've experimented recently with both, although I'm just learning on how to post actual fiction and poetry in the right format.

3. Direct – this goes to only the people you choose like a personal email.

What to Post on Instagram

1. Post what you say you're going to post in your profile. Your profile is your preview.

2. Post about your writing - the day to day, the finish moments, the tough moments, the great moments, the actual books you've written.

3. Post about activities or hobbies you have other than your writing: reading, hiking, guitar playing, your cats and dogs.

4. Post what matters to you. Be authentic. If your faith matters to you, go ahead and post it.

5. Post quotes that motivate you.

6. Post about your fandom or about what inspires your writing. 

7. Post something. (Empty feeds are sometimes a telltale of Instagram stalkers.)

Using Instagram to Engage Followers

1. Go comment and like other people's posts (especially if they have liked yours).

2. Use hashtags. #writingcommunity #amwriting #theiwsg #writingfantasy or #YA are just some of a few hashtags that get used regularly. 

3. Follow hashtags. It can help you find like-minded authors.

4. Have at least one post a week that links to your own content - a blog post, a book review.

5. Share through to Twitter and Facebook. Instagram has buttons for this every time you post. 

Finally, don't be afraid to make mistakes! It's okay. Everyone out there who claims to be an expert started out as a beginner and most of the "experts" are still learning. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Pros and Cons of Writing Unlikable Characters

With my debut You Beneath Your Skin out into the world, I'm a newly-minted author, but in some ways I'll remain more of a reader than a writer. As a reader, the one thing I really remember about the books I've loved are the characters--be it the stubborn protagonist of The Old man and the Sea or the spirited Jo from Little Women, or the insecure, weak-minded Pip from Great Expectations.

All of them are very differently placed on the likability spectrum, and this brings us to the question of what likability is--it varies with readers. What is likable to me might just be unlikable to another reader. In general, a likable character is one that the reader can relate to, or empathise with.

There are no cons to writing likable characters, you would say and you might be right to an extent.

Here are the pros of likable characters:

1. The reader can live vicariously through their journey because they can easily identify with these characters.

2. The reader roots for the characters--maybe because they are an underdog, or have done good deeds, or are kind, or loyal, or courageous, or have a sad backstory.

The cons of likable characters ( or, the pros of unlikable characters):

1. A likable character is great while reading the book, but often not very memorable.

2. A character that begins as unlikable and ends up as likable (with a redemption arc) often stays with the reader.

3. Likable characters with small flaws may be easy to read, but a tortured, Heathcliff-like character is rewarding in the terms of long-term reader engagement. You want him to be better, you wonder at how he could be the way he is.

4. A likable character does not expand our universe--they are familiar, easy to love. A character that is harder to like, but who we do end up understanding an lovng over the course of a book makes us empathise with those who might have unlikable traits. The purpose of art is to show us humanity in all its aspects--unlikable characters show our deeply flawed, utterly human sides.

In my novel, You BeneathYour Skin, Jatin Bhatt begins as a corrupt, patriarchal police commissioner, but ends as a man who truly understands women and respects them. Anjali Morgan, an Indian American single mother and psychiatrist begins as an insecure perfectionist and grows over the course of the novel to overcome her flaws. It is tricky to write an unlikable character, or at least a character who is not immediately relatable.You have to hook the reader with the story and the setting, and make the character interesting enough that the reader is invested in them, and grows to love them over the course of the novel.

The rewards of writing an unlikable character are plenty. Readers have reported falling in love with Anjali and Jatin as their lives and relationships unravel, and caring what happens to them beyond the end of the novel.

What about you? Do you think there are any cons to not writing likable characters? How do you ensure that the readers are hooked on to the story? Have you ever read or written a character who is not likable?

You can get your own copy of You Beneath Your Skin outside of India HERE.
In India, it is available from Simon & Schuster HERE
Add it to your Goodreads list HERE

About the Author

Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and works with India's underprivileged children as part of Project WHY, a charity that promotes educational and social enhancement in underprivileged communities. Her short stories have been published in magazines in US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine.

You can connect with Damyanti on her blog and Twitter.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Insecure Writer's Support Group News and Connections

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month and encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts today are Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Mary Aalgaard, Madeline Mora-Summonte, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!

Today’s question:
It's been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand, how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don't enjoy reading? What are your thoughts?

This month’s WEP challenge:

#IWSGPit happens once a year – next date, January 15, 2020.

Do people really find a publisher or agent from a Twitter pitch event? Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C. has signed FOUR authors now from Twitter pitches.

If you have signed with a publisher or agent after #IWSGPit, please let us know.

The first IWSG posting of 2020 will be on Jan. 8th – NOT on Jan. 1st since it is New Year’s Day. So, mark your calendars now.

Did you know the IWSG is elsewhere?

Find us on Facebook where we offer several prompts a week, opportunities to share news, discuss writing with others, and find the support and help you need. Almost 4,400 member strong now.

Find us on Twitter where we share writing, publishing, and marketing tips and news, plus we host #IWSGPit. Over 10K followers and growing.

Find us on Instagram where we share visual writing prompts and inspiration. Almost 800 followers.

Find us on Goodreads where we host a book club that reads books that will improve your craft and show you how certain elements are done well. With close to 400 members, it’s still an intimate group.

Finally, did you know we have a newsletter? Get monthly writing tips, guest articles, news, links, and more!

Please connect with us!

What are your thoughts on writers who don’t read?