“To see a world in a grain of sand”–William Blake


Worlds in the smallest of details, worlds in the largest of visions.

I am one of those readers who loves to be totally immersed in the world of the book I am reading. I want to feel I am there, so the more detail the better. I read eclecticly in my fiction choices, from literary fiction to fantasy to historical fiction (both adult and children’s), and genres like mystery and romance. Some readers complain of being bogged down, bored in Tolkien’s Ring trilogy because of all the time he spends building that unique world, but not me. The songs and created languages, the references to back story and places outside Middle Earth and to ancient elven history fascinate me. I still can close my eyes and be in Tom Bombadil’s home and feel so glad to be there. I can practically feel the breezes blowing through Tolkien’s forests, and feel the midges biting.

As a child I loved all the detailed descriptions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s various cabins and dugouts, and how Pa hand constructed a wooden door, or how a pig was butchered for food to see them through the winter.

As an adult, I love the detailed descriptions that Nora Roberts uses to place us in her novel settings, with colors, garden details, furnishings. It’s like the honey on bread to me in the stories I read.

As a writer I haven’t thought extensively about settings or worlds, except in a novel that is set in a real city, where I wanted to be extremely careful to get details correct. Now I want to be more intentional about setting and place. I want to build layers of details, like an oyster builds a pearl. I want to move past what I have been doing, which is to write about the surroundings in what I think of as an intuitive way.

I want to be more aware and smarter about how I do that. Envision places, maybe use photos or paintings or memories of places I have been, and place my character there. Then write by seeing through the characters’ eyes and feeling through their skins, use what registers with all their senses, and try to let the reader feel what they feel, physically. And by doing that, hopefully suggest what they feel emotionally.

As a reader, what do you notice about sensory and descriptive details in the fiction you read? Is it colors, sounds, scents? Can you name one of your favorite writers who seems to get it just right, so you feel like you are there? I’d love to hear what you think about this, from a reader’s perspective.


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