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Unleash Your Creativity: Unique Ways to Write a Birthday Card Message

Birthdays are special occasions that allow us to celebrate the people we care about. And what better way to show your love and appreciation than by writing a heartfelt message in a birthday card? But sometimes, finding the right words can be challenging. If you’re looking for unique ways to write a birthday card message, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll explore some nice things you can say in a birthday card that will make your loved ones feel truly special.

Capture Memories and Celebrate Milestones

A birthday is not just about getting older; it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the past and celebrate milestones. Use your birthday card as a platform to capture memories and highlight the achievements of the person celebrating their special day.

Start by reminiscing about shared experiences or inside jokes that will bring a smile to their face. For example, “Remember that time we hiked up that mountain together? It was an adventure I’ll never forget. Wishing you more exciting journeys ahead.”

You can also take this opportunity to acknowledge their accomplishments and how far they’ve come. Whether it’s personal growth, career success, or overcoming challenges, let them know how proud you are of their journey. For instance, “Happy birthday. You’ve accomplished so much in the past year, and I’m in awe of your strength and determination.”

Express Your Appreciation

Birthdays are an excellent occasion to express your appreciation for someone’s presence in your life. Take this chance to let them know how much they mean to you.

Tell them why they are important and how they have made a positive impact on your life or others’. For example, “On your special day, I want you to know that you bring so much joy into my life with your infectious laughter and kind heart.”

If the person has been a source of support and inspiration, express your gratitude. Let them know how much their encouragement has meant to you during tough times. For instance, “Thank you for always being there for me and believing in me even when I doubted myself. Your unwavering support means the world to me.”

Highlight Their Qualities and Strengths

Everyone loves to be reminded of their unique qualities and strengths on their birthday. Use your birthday card as an opportunity to uplift the person celebrating their special day.

Highlight their admirable traits, such as kindness, compassion, or creativity. For example, “Your kindness knows no bounds, and your compassion is truly inspiring. Wishing you a birthday filled with love and happiness.”

If they have a particular talent or skill that you admire, acknowledge it in your message. This will not only make them feel appreciated but also encourage them to continue pursuing their passions. For instance, “Your musical talent never fails to mesmerize me. Keep shining bright and sharing your beautiful gift with the world.”

Shower Them with Warm Wishes

No birthday card message is complete without warm wishes for the future. Take this opportunity to send positive vibes and blessings their way.

Wish them happiness, success, good health, and all the wonderful things life has to offer. For example, “May this year bring you endless joy, success in all your endeavors, and good health that never falters.”

Encourage them to embrace new experiences and make the most out of every moment by reminding them that life is an adventure waiting to be explored. For instance, “As you blow out the candles on your cake today, remember that life is full of exciting opportunities waiting for you around every corner.”

In conclusion, writing a birthday card message doesn’t have to be a daunting task. By capturing memories, expressing appreciation, highlighting qualities and strengths while showering warm wishes upon someone, you can create a truly unique and heartfelt message. Let your creativity flow and make their birthday card a keepsake they’ll cherish for years to come.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


creative writing describing a place


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19,854 quotes, descriptions and writing prompts, 4,964 themes

a place - quotes and descriptions to inspire creative writing

  • no place to go
The street winds over the hill like a carelessly discarded belt, grey and cracked with age. On each side the houses are separated by yards large enough to accommodate farm animals, but this is no rural district. The homes are many times larger than even the biggest of families might need, yet in each is mostly parents with one child. To each dwelling there are more sports cars than people and kitchens that cost more than our homes just a block over. But I can ride my bike down here, enjoying the wide avenues, the leafy green trees and the relative safety now that the security guards patrol. There is talk of the residents paying to have the road repaved, they don't want the same repair service as the rest of us, nor the same schools or health service. Our parents are the nurses, the technicians and the fast food servers and they would like us to stay in our ramshackle boxes and never enter their plush neighbourhoods.
From the bow of the boat the harbour comes into focus like a high-definition movie. Above the gulls swoop, crying in that repetitive way they do. The houses are identical in shape and size but no two are the same shade. They are yellow, lilac, blue, red, orange and every shade in between. Each one is not only a house but also a shop run by the folks that live above, selling ice-cream, meat, vegetables or fine leather goods. From the bright yellow lampposts hang the flags of European nations and in the town square there is a market. I can't see the fish from here, but I know from my many visits that they are there. Lying on those tables, silver scales to the sun, is the morning's catch. They are fresher than I can hope for back home, were the food has been frozen and breaded with seasoning and sugar some months before. The air here is fresher than in my dreams back in the city. One day I will come here and never leave. One day.
Under the mist that swirls thicker than hairspray in a beauty pageant prep-room lies sand that shifts under the pressure of my boot. I can't see it, only feel. Out there, only meters away is the ocean, alive with constant motion and millions of sea-dwellers. Beyond this wall of white I can smell and hear it. The waves are neither the gentle kind that roll up the beach like a overflowing bath tub, nor the crashing kind that turn murky with golden swirling crystals. They move with force but die within a few feet. From them comes the salty smell, that fragrance that conjures fishing fleets and nets of sun-bleached blue cord hanging out to dry. This place could be anywhere, I guess at a stretch this could be some kind of artificial simulation, but it isn't. This is my hometown beach and that is the sea I swam in as a small child. The wind here carries my mother's voice and her sweet kisses. I stand still, face to the breeze and soak it all in. No technology, no gimmicks, just nature...
In the plaza the pigeons outnumber the red paving slabs. Just to walk from the tall terraced houses around the edges with their stores at ground level I must take small steps to avoid kicking them. These birds have no fear of me, I'm more scared they'll foul up the Italian leather shoes I bought only last week at Darcy's. A few minutes later my efforts are rewarded by being able to sit on the edge of the octagonal pool that surrounds the fountain, water spraying many feet into the dry summer air from the lips of a busty mermaid. The droplets arc high before cascading down at the will of gravity. I dig in my satchel for the baguette I plan to eat for lunch and the mass of grey feathers before me gets so dense you can't see the stone underneath. Between the splashing behind and the squawking in front the sound of the city traffic disappears, and that is why I walk here to eat. Here I can admire the brightly painted old buildings and imagine I am back in my home town. Just for a moment.
This place seems so foreign now. The narrow streets flow like rivers, winding around hills and fields rather than cutting a romanesque line through them. For the most part the lanes are one car wide and the corners blind, obscured behind the hawthorn hedgerow that has been growing unchecked through June and July, giddy with the sunshine and rain. I remember the white blooms and how they are so often over hung by spreading trees, darkening in the sunshine faster than I can tan. I recall the bird song and the gentleness of the sun, even in summer. Even the aroma takes me back to my mis-spent youth. But I've been gone too long and now this is like a half-forgotten dream. The good parts aren't as good as the memory and the bad parts are more frustrating. I'm just not used to it. As much as I want to savour the hear and now I can't wait to board the plane for home; back to straight roads and summer heat that cooks your head.
This street could be any city anywhere. Now that the corporations are global we have the same style buildings in every country. Our STEM education means there are no artists to make our public spaces unique to us, to our culture. The colour scheme is the same for every store. There are no designers since only math and technology counts. So now this place is grey, black and blue. The workers who went to the free schools line the streets in orange coveralls. They are our road sweepers, garbage collectors and factory fodder. The shrinking middle class that is rapidly going under from paying their own medical bills are the low level workers, data entry clerks in cubicle farms and code monkeys. They cram the buses in their blue uniforms that have been the same in many years, no art means no fashion. Then there are the electric self driven cars that ferry the children of the elite to their private schools. It's the class system by another name. The top stay at the top, the poor die young.
Viewed in isolation the patio could be anywhere with its grey stone floor and cafe tables, each with a green sun umbrella. If it were before an Italian vista I could sit for hours, days even, and simply be content. But instead it lies less than two feet from one of the busiest roads in the city. Were I to buy a coffee I wouldn't be enjoying its aroma, but instead the chocking fumes of the traffic that goes by almost without break. This isn't even a quaint city street, compared to my home country it's more of a highway, two lanes in either direction. Under the unbroken cloud this late morning could be the pre-dawn and the street is all the more grey for it. The headache I woke with is thickening like day old stew. The cafe itself looks inviting, on the other side of those doors is warmth and soft jazz, but I have no time to pamper myself today. No money either. The coins that rattle in my pocket are all accounted for: bus fair, lunch and candy from the office vending machine at eleven.
In that place I could be anyone, or perhaps no-one at all. The people flowed like rivers, never stopping for obstacles but swirling around them. On those wide avenues with wilted trees, their leaves curled and blackened in in the August heat, the buildings towered on each side. A hundred years ago I expect it was pretty, the golden light on the sandstone architecture, built in the days when curves and design weren't considered superfluous. Even the street-lamps were dreamt by an artist, built by an engineer following the teachings of a scientist. On days like this, crammed in with more bodies than I could count even in a photograph, I tilt my head to the sky. The empty blue gives me the strength just to walk at the pace of the crowd and bottle my claustrophobia inside my chest.
The cobblestones are wet with the night's rain and made slippery by the wintry temperature, casting the water film into ice. Edward's worn shoes slip and bend, were there any sharp edges he'd feel them though his thinning grey socks but these over-sized pebbles were pounded smooth by the Atlantic ocean long ago. The road is one carriage wide with slim pavements at the edge. As always he takes his chances with the traffic, walking in the middle of the street; a better choice he feels than receiving a bucket of sewage or bath-water from an upstairs window. The crocked houses that are build without gaps, save the odd alley to the long gardens behind. The homes are either redbrick with bare ivy tendrils reaching the rooftops or the tudor style, white with dark beams. He no longer notices the stench, or the sea air that mingles with it. He has no thoughts for yesterday or tomorrow. He only knows that he must reach his employer by dawn or his family won't eat today.

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creative writing describing a place

How do you describe a place? 6 setting tips

The setting of your story is key to readers being able to imagine ‘being there’. How do you describe a place so it is characterful and contributes effectively to your story? Try these 6 tips:

  • Post author By Jordan
  • 6 Comments on How do you describe a place? 6 setting tips

How to describe a place | Now Novel

The setting of your story is key to readers being able to imagine ‘being there’. How do you describe a place so it is characterful and contributes effectively to your story? Try these 6 tips:

How to describe a place:

  • Describe place through characters’ senses
  • Include time period in description
  • Include small-scale changes in time
  • Show how characters feel about your setting
  • Keep setting description relevant to the story
  • List adjectives to describe your story locations

1. Describe place through characters’ senses

We feel connected to place in a story when we see it through characters’ senses. Bring senses such as sight, hearing, touch, smell and even taste (there’s edible wallpaper in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ) into your setting. Using every sense might not make sense for your book, yet it’s possible. In Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, set in a sweet factory full of wonder, it somehow makes sense even the wallpaper is delicious.

When describing places in your story, think about tone and mood . Should this setting be intimidating or welcoming? Ancient, dusty and arcane or ultra-modern and spotless? What does an ancient, dusty mood smell like (old books? Damp carpets?).

Use the ‘Core Setting’ section of your story dashboard on Now Novel to create your story outline online , including key setting elements.

Example of effective sensory place description

In Margaret Atwood’s novel Cat’s Eye  (1989), the protagonist Cordelia recalls her childhood in flashbacks. Here, Cordelia describes her childhood home, when her parents would throw bridge (the card game) parties:

Then the doorbell begins to ring and the people come in. The house fills with the alien scent of cigarettes, which will still be there in the morning along with a few uneaten candies and salted nuts, and with bursts of laughter that get louder as time passes. I lie in my bed listening to the bursts of laughter. I feel isolated, left out. Also I don’t understand why this activity, these noises and smells, is called “bridge.” It is not like a bridge. (pp. 168-169)

Atwood uses sound and smell to paint an idea of the strangeness of being a child in an adult’s world. She uses the young Cordelia’s senses to create place and this puts us in the scene, as we experience young Cordelia’s surrounds through her perspective.

2. Include time period in description

‘Time’ is an important aspect of setting . This is particularly so in historical fiction. Details from the types of buildings and shops that line the main road of a city to individual details of people’s clothing and speech contribute to a sense of when the story happens. A story set in 1950s Chicago will naturally have very different buildings, cars, and people, than one set in the late 2000s.

How do you describe a place so the reader can sense the time period?

  • Show technology: What are the ordinary tools people have at their disposal? See, for example, the period-specific radio in the image below
  • Show culture: How do people live? Are there rigid gender roles between the sexes? What do the majority believe? Convey these social patterns and habits in the way people speak and things they say
  • Include current interests, challenges or obstacles: In the time period of your story, what are the hot topics of the day? Are people worried about a war, a new law, a change in government?

Period setting - 1950s Chicago scene with old radio | Now Novel

Example of time period in setting description

In Alice Munro’s semi-autobiographical collection of stories, The View from Castle Rock  (2006), the Canadian author traces the history of her Scottish ancestors. Here, she recalls the simple ways of village life in the 1700s, describing the life of her ancestor William Laidlaw:

The first story told of Will is about his prowess as a runner. His earliest job in the Ettrick Valley was as a shepherd to a Mr. Anderson, and this Mr. Anderson had noted how Will ran straight down on a sheep and not roundabout when he wanted to catch it. So he knew that Will was a fast runner, and when a champion English runner came into the valley Mr. Anderson wagered Will against him for a large sum of money. (p. 9)

The details here convey a sense of rural life in 18th Century Scotland. Descriptions of herding sheep and rival runners create a sense of an agrarian, outdoor way of life conjuring earlier, less modern times.

Munro goes further creating period in her setting by describing the clothing Will receives in reward for winning the race against the English runner:

Mr. Anderson collected a fine heap of coins and Will for his part got a gray cloth coat and a pair of hose.

The reference to hose, which men don’t typically wear in modern times, further places the story in earlier times.

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3. Include small-scale changes in time

In addition to creating the broader sense of time or period, you can use small-scale time (such as time of day or the way place changes week to week or month to month).

Think of how time of day and physical changes to a place in time can both contribute tone and mood.

For example, if a city is bombed over a week’s period in a story, what does it look like at the start versus at the end? As an exercise, describe a sleek, modern city in a few sentences. Then describe the same elements of the city after a week of civil warfare. What has changed and what mood do these changes create?

Including time of day can create moods such as:

  • Fear: Nighttime may bring vulnerabilities such as reduced visibility and general fear
  • Langour and laziness: The golden light of a late afternoon outdoor social gathering, for example</li.
  • Excitement: For example, the breaking light of an important and exciting day such as a wedding or holiday
Weaving in details of time of day as well as the way places change over a day, week, month or year will create a sense of your setting being a dynamic , active and real place. Tweet This

Example of effective use of small-scale time in writing setting

In his historical novel Oscar and Lucinda (1988), the Australian author Peter Carey describes a stormy nighttime scene where the lights in Oscar’s family’s home go out:

There was no torch available for my father because I had dropped it down the dunny [toilet] the night before. I had seen it sink, its beam still shining through the murky fascinating sea of urine and faeces… So when the lights went off in the storm the following night, he had no torch to examine the fuse-box. (p. 3)

Carey weaves a succession of nightly events together to show the frustrations of Oscar’s father. This use of time, coupled with the stormy setting, creates tension. When the father asks Oscar’s mother where the fuse-wire is, she says ‘I used it…to make the Advent wreath’ [for the church].

Oscar’s father’s response is to blaspheme. The mother, being devout, makes them all kneel to ask God’s forgiveness.

Carey ends the scene showing a change in the setting and how the mother interprets it:

We stayed there kneeling on the hard lino floor. My brother was crying softly. Then the lights came on. I looked up and saw the hard bright triumph in my mother’s eyes. She would die believing God had fixed the fuse. (p. 5)

Carey masterfully uses a tense nighttime setting and situation (lights going out in a storm) to show different family members’ personalities. The mother’s response is to turn to her faith, the father’s to think of practical matters like finding fuse-wires to fix the lights.

The stormy nighttime setting provides a dramatic backdrop to the action, giving both the cause for the situation and the mood of the scene.

How do you describe place? Infographic | Now Novel

4. Show how characters feel about your setting

Story settings affect and alter characters’ moods and states of mind, just as places affect our own. Learning how to describe a place thus means, in part, learning how to describe places so that they reveal characters’ desires, interests, fears and more .

Bring your character’s personalities, passions and histories to bear on the setting details they notice and describe.

We often return to this example because it’s an effective description of setting and the feelings it evokes:

124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children. For years each put up with the spite in his own way, but by 1873 Sethe and her daughter Denver were its only victims. (p. 3)

This is the opening to Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), describing the haunted quality of her protagonist Sethe’s family home. Morrison immediately creates a sense of feeling in her setting description. Describing her characters as ‘victims’ of the house makes it clear it is a place of trauma and suffering.

Morrison continues to convey the character of place brilliantly:

The grandmother, Baby Suggs, was dead, and the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away by the time they were thirteen years old – as soon as merely looking in a mirror shattered it (that was the signal for Buglar); as soon as two tiny hand prints appeared in the cake (that was it for Howard). (p. 3)

Morrison lists interesting, mysterious details about the haunted air of 124, and the different details of place that are the final straws for individual members of Sethe’s family.

Overall, the effect of her place description is to create a sense of hostility and ‘unhomeliness’. We have a clear sense of the emotions place produces or reawakens.

5. Keep setting description relevant to the story

Often writers starting out try to describe every little detail in painstaking detail. Others describe everything in broad generalizations. Each have pros and drawbacks. The advantages of detailed place description are:

  • Vivid visuals: We see more of the setting in our mind’s eye
  • Authenticity: Details often create a sense of reality. For example, if the rooms of a house have different light, objects, curiosities

The cons of detailed description are that it can slow narrative pace and clutter your prose.

Being too broad and abstract has its own cons, however. If you describe a high street, for example, and say ‘The shops all have lavish window displays’, we don’t see any difference between them.

It’s often best to balance a little relevant detail here and there with broad description elsewhere to give both the specific qualities and the general feeling of a place.

What is relevant setting description?

It’s description that is:

  • Relevant to impending events: E.g. Including an object that will be used in a scene, such as a murder weapon
  • Revealing about place or character: For example, if a character’s bedroom is messy it tells us something about their personality (that they’re lazy, perhaps, or merely busy or chaotic)
  • Worth mentioning: Beginning writers often include unnecessary descriptions such as ‘she walked across the lounge and headed to her bedroom’. It’s more concise to simply say, ‘She went to her bedroom’

Example of relevant setting description

In his novel Love in the Time of Cholera  (1985), Gabriel Garcia Marquez describes Dr. Juvenal Urbino as one of the most respected men in the Carribean town where the story takes place.

Here is description of the doctor’s arrival at a party in the middle of a storm:

In the chaos of the storm Dr. Juvenal Urbino, along with the other late guests whom he had met on the road, had great difficulty reaching the house, and like them he wanted to move from the carriage to the house by jumping from stone to stone across the muddy patio, but at last he had to accept the humiliation of being carried by Don Sancho’s men under a yellow canvas canopy. (p. 34)

This is a simple, effective example of relevant setting description because:

  • Marquez uses how a character interacts with his challenge-ridden setting (the mud and the wet) to reveal character. Because the doctor is so respected he is carried, but he is also ‘humiliated’ by this, showing his proud nature
  • The setting description focuses on the key transition that sets up the next scenes – people’s arrival for a luncheon to commemorate the silver anniversary of Urbino’s colleague’s graduation

6. List adjectives to describe your story locations

Learning how to describe a place means also broadening your vocabulary with words that capture setting. There are so many adjectives to describe an ‘old’ building, for example. Each of the following terms describe age, yet with different shades of meaning:

  • Ancient: Belonging to the very distant past ( OED )
  • Anachronistic: Belonging or appropriate to an earlier period, especially so as to seem conspicuously old-fashioned ( OED )
  • Prehistoric: (Informal) Very old or out of date ( OED )
  • Archaic: Very old or old-fashioned ( OED )
  • Venerable: Accorded a great deal of respect, especially because of age, wisdom, or character ( OED )

Even if you don’t use every word you find, this exercise will help you pinpoint the mood of a place. Think about elements such as a place’s:

Find adjectives that convey these qualities in a way that make place more specific. ‘Venerable’, for example, suggests respect that comes with age as described above. ‘Decrepit’, by contrast, suggests falling apart and ugly with age.

Brainstorm the broad setting of your story using the ‘Core Setting’ prompts in Now Novel’s comprehensive story outlining tool and get novel help as you progress.

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  • Tags how to describe

creative writing describing a place

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

6 replies on “How do you describe a place? 6 setting tips”

This is key. I’ve read stories set in defined places, (NYC, Boston, etc.) and in imaginary places, (Narnia, Dallas, etc.) a good writer can establish the place indelibly and succinctly. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks for sharing that, Elias. Though I’m not sure how the residents of Dallas would feel about being imaginary 🙂 Thanks for reading.

I enjoy your list of adjectives idea! Choosing the right words to fit the tone, style, and setting of a novel is important to the overall feel of the story and place. Two words that technically mean the same thing can mean entirely different things when used judiciously. Thanks for sharing!

Hi Jaya, I’m glad you enjoyed this. That’s absolutely true, subtle differences in connotation stack up. Thank you for reading our blog.

Very helpful, thanks

Thanks so much for writing in, Mohd. So pleased you found the information useful.

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Describing a Place| Tips, Techniques, & Examples

Describing a place paragraphs.

When describing a place , you have to be able to use all of the five senses so that the readers feel as if they are there too. An easy way to do this is by using adjectives to describe what you see, hear, touch, taste and smell while you are in the environment . The human brain is a powerful instrument , one that we shouldn’t take for granted.

Descriptive Writing about a Place- Some Techniques to Describe a Place

If you want to describe a place, you will need to use some specific adjectives and verbs . To start, you might want to use general words like “beautiful,” “serene,” or ” majestic.” However, these words alone will not give your reader a clear picture of the place. You will need to be more specific. For example- If you are describing a mountain, you might say that it is “covered in snow” or that it has “a jagged peak.” If you are describing a forest, you might say that it is “dense with trees” or that it has “a thick canopy of leaves.” By using specific adjectives and verbs, you can give your reader a much clearer picture of the place you are trying to describe. So finally let’s sum up –

When describing a place, it is important to include as many sensory details as possible. Describe what you see, hear, smell, and feel.

Be sure to use vivid language to bring the reader into the scene. Here are some tips on how to describe a place: 1.Use all five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste means if you ate something at the place you are describing. 2.Be as specific as possible with your adjectives. Instead of saying “nice,” try “splendid,” “gorgeous,” or “wonderful.” 3.Create a mental image for the reader by including as many sensory details as possible. What does the place look like? What does it sound like? What does it smell like? What does it feel like? 4.Use active verbs and strong adjectives to create an engaging description. 5.Vary your sentence structure to keep the reader engaged. Use simple sentences, complex sentences, and short paragraphs. 6.Paint a picture with your words and help the reader feel like they are there in the moment with you.

There are many different ways to describe a place. Some people might describe the physical features of the place, while others might focus on the emotions that they feel when they are there.

Here are a few examples of how you could describe a place:

Example of Describing a Happy Place like Beach- The sound of the waves crashing against the shore, the smell of salt in the air, and the feel of sand between my toes; these are some of the things that come to mind when we think of a happy place like beach. Example of Describing a Happy Place like Home- To me, home is a place where I can be myself and relax. It’s a place where I am surrounded by people who love and support me. It’s a place where I feel safe and secure. Example of Describing a Happy Place like Park- The park is my favorite place to go to clear my head. It’s a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city, where I can forget about my troubles and just enjoy nature. Here are some examples of adjectives and phrases that could be used to describe different places: Example of Describing a Comfortable Cottage by the Sea Side A small, cozy cottage by the sea: The cottage was small and cozy, with whitewashed walls and a thatched roof. It sat right on the water’s edge, with a small dock where you could tie up a boat. The waves lapped at the shore, and seagulls cried overhead. Example of Describing a Bustling Busy City Street: The street was busy and noisy, with cars honking and people shouting. The sidewalks were crowded with people rushing to get where they were going. The air was thick with smog and the smell of garbage. Example of Describing a Peaceful Forest: The forest was quiet and peaceful, with tall trees shading the path. Birds sang in the branches, and squirrels chattered in the leaves. A cool breeze drifted through the woods, making the leaves rustle softly. Example of Describing an Uncomfortable Place like a Small Room: The room was small and cramped, with bare walls and a single window. It smelled musty, as if it hadn’t been aired out in months. The only sound was the drip of water from a leaky faucet. The air was heavy and oppressive. The floor was cold and damp. Example of Describing a Nice Place like Garden: The garden was a riot of color and scent. Flowers of every hue filled the air with their fragrance. Birds sang in the trees, and insects buzzed among the flowers. The grass was soft and cool beneath my feet. Following are a few links for the examples of describing a place. Click the links below and learn-

1.Describing Place: An Angry Mob

2.describing place: a railway station, 3.describing place: my school, 4. describing place: a visit to a historical place, 5. describing place: hill station, 6. describing place: indian village, people also ask:.

1. How do you describe a beautiful place? Ans : When giving a description of a place, the use of all five senses will help make it come alive. Consider what you see, the sounds that surround you, what you smell and taste, and how it feels to be in this place. Using as many adjectives will create an immersive experience for your readers.

2.What words best describe a place? Ans : The best words to describe a place would be the adjectives that can be used to describe it. These would include words like beautiful, stunning, majestic, and so on.

3. How do you describe a place in a short story? Ans : You can use all five senses to describe a place in a short story. For example, you can describe the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and textures of a place. You can also use similes and metaphors to describe a place.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Description of places in creative writing.

creative writing describing a place


creative writing describing a place

I like it when atmosphere is threaded thru the story rather than in separate chunks.

creative writing describing a place

Good point. I like it too when I write my stories.

I agree, Julia, that reams of description are not necessary to create a sense of place. I was once told that mentioning one little detail - maybe a duck swimming on a lake - can fire a reader's imagination and drop him into the location.

Certainly. A single line can be good enough to fire the reader's imagination. This is exactly the message I tried to convey even though I ended up using longer examples. Thanks, Sally.

creative writing describing a place

These were beautiful selections, Julia. They plunged me right into the scene. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Cezar is much better.

I'm very glad to know that Cezar is much better! Hugs.

Beautiful examples you've provided us, Julia. I love description as a reader, especially if it transports me to new places.

As a writer you do a fabulous job with your vivid scenes, Kimberly.

Thank you for writing this post, I am currently taking my GCSE's and for English we have to write a creative writing piece. Your post has really helped with what I am supposed to do.

Taylor, thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your feedback and I will take it into consideration.

hello i am currently studying level two english an di am studying creative writing:description which means i must have a purpose behind the description , would you know any tips to help me out with this?


Your work is very inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

I appreciate each and every comment. Thank you.

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Home » Creative nonfiction Writing » How to Write Creative Nonfiction: Writing about Place

How to Write Creative Nonfiction: Writing about Place

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Place is more than Just Location

Writing about place or location of the event or experience is an important technique in creative nonfiction. It often plays a vital role in your story. It allows you to recreate the scene and experience in the mind of the reader. It can act as a backdrop or provide context for a personal essay. It can add meaning to a memoir. For instance, if a writer creates a memoir about child abuse, the place or location is significant. Place can also be the subject of creative writing. If you are writing a travel essay, you will be writing about the place you are visiting. Often, without a place or location, you have no experience or event.

This article will define what creative nonfiction writers mean by place/location and explain how to write about place/location in your creative nonfiction.

Definition of Place

In creative nonfiction, the place or location where the event or experience took place is more than just about the name of the place. It is also the physical location of the place, the physical attributes, such as the urban setting of crowds, pollution, public transit, traffic jams or the rural setting of open spaces, fewer people, fields, farms, and small communities.

Place is also about its socioeconomic attributes of a setting. Some places are poor, while others are wealthy. Some places have high unemployment, while others have an abundance of employment opportunities. Some places have schools and hospitals, while other places have nothing.

In writing about travel, place is much more than the physical location. It is about the culture, language, values, morals, beliefs, customs, cuisine, traditions, and way of life.

In writing a memoir, place often has significant meaning. It can be a catalyst for memories of childhood, adulthood, unique experiences. In the memoir, My Life: The Presidential Years , the Whitehouse was a special place for Bill Clinton. Place can also have significant meaning for ordinary people. In writing Eat, Pray, and Love , place had a powerful meaning for Elizabeth Gilbert. After her divorce and a mid-life-crisis, Gilbert decided to travel for a year by herself in an effort to restore balance and meaning to her life. Her memoir chronicles the three places she visited: Rome, India, and Bali. Each of these places had significant meaning to herself and to her life. She wrote about this powerful meaning in her memoir.

Some creative nonfiction writers view place as character. In recreating the scene or experience, the writer views place as a character in the story. Similar to developing a character, the place needs to be developed. The writer can use personification to develop the place. It can become nurturing, menacing, foreboding.

Yet place is more than just character. It is also about meaning. A place or location often has significant meaning. We can associate a particular place with good memories or bad memories, as being a happy place or sad place, as being a relaxing place or stressful place.

Clearly, when a creative writer writes about place, the writer must consider more than just its physical attributes or  location.

How to Write about Place

In writing about place, you ought to consider the following:

  • Name of the place
  • Location of the place
  • Physical attributes
  • Home as place
  • Nature as place
  • Travel as place
  • Meaning the place has for you
  • Significance of the place

When writing about place, you first need to consider its name. Where did the name of the place originate? What is its history? What does it symbolize? For example, the city of Toronto originated as the Mohawk phrase tkaronto , later modified by French explorers and map makers.

You also need to consider writing about the important features, amenities, and physical attributes of place. For instance, in writing about Toronto, you can consider writing about its multicultural population, sports teams, and public transit, shopping centers, unique neighborhoods, landmarks, popular attractions, and the fact that it is located on Lake Ontario.

A place can also be about “home.” You can begin by exploring the meaning of home. Home is suppose to be a place of escape, comfort, protection, love, stability, and permanence—even solitude. What does home mean to you? What was my home like as a child? What did a like or dislike about the place called home? What memories do you have about your childhood home? For some people, home is a transient place, especially for people who travel, who are new immigrants, who end marriages or relationships.

In writing about place, you can also consider it in relation to nature. In his memoir, “Waldon”, Henry David Thoreau viewed nature, wildlife, and the woods as having a being a special place. According to Brenda Miller, who wrote “Tell It Slant”, a popular creative nonfiction text, Thoreau viewed the “human consciousness moved through nature, observing it, reacting to it, and ultimately being transformed by it. Miller goes on to suggest that when you write about nature as place, you need to consider how nature embodies larger forces, such as the physical attributes of a person you admire or the human condition or human experience.

In writing about place as a traveler, don’t write what everyone else has written. Your purpose is to find “a purpose for your writing above and beyond the travel experience itself”. (Tell It Slant) To create a travel piece that is more than just about transcribing the experience, you need to consider the theme and the significant meaning of the place.

When writing about a particular place, you ought to consider what meaning the place has for you. You can start by ask yourself the following: What does this place mean to me? How do I feel about this particular place? Do I like it? What do I like about it? Do I dislike it? What do I dislike about it? What are my memories of this place? What favorite memories do I have about this place?

Tips for Writing about Place

When writing about place, you must be original. You must be able to write about place from a unique perspective.

  • Describe the place as if it is a character in your story. What is its appearance? Its behaviour? What is the place saying to you?
  • Use literary devices to describe the place, such as metaphors, personification, and simile.
  • Describe the physical attributes of the place using sensory images. How does place smell, sound, taste, feel, and appear to you?
  • Write about place as it means to you. Do you have fond memories of the place? What do you like or dislike about the place? What is important? What is insignificant about the place? How does the place feel to you?
  • Write about the significance of place. What universal truth embodies the place?
  • Write about what you have learned about the sense of place/location?
  • Don’t use clichés or hackneyed expressions to describe a place.
  • Use concrete and specific details. Remember as many significant details about place as you can.

The place or location of an event or experience can have many meanings. Place can be your home, a travel destination, or a walk in the woods. When writing about place, consider its name. Write about its physical attributes. Write about what the place means to you. Write about the significance of the place. Write about theme and universal truth as it applies to place. Write about place from your own unique perspective.

If you have any questions or comments, please post them to this blog.

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Tags: Creative Nonfiction , environment , location , meaning of place , nature , place , place as character , Techniques , tips , travel

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Awesome post. Very helpful. I just wrote my first blog post ever and trying to improve my writing so this was great for me, thanks.

[…] How to Write Creative Nonfiction: Writing about Place « Find Your …Mar 17, 2010 … Writing about place or location of the event or experience is an important technique in creative nonfiction. It often plays a vital role in your story. […]

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Thank you for this article. I am starting my own little creative writing expedition. It has been suggested I work on my location descriptions, so as to not sound forced.

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wow this is great. it will even be better if someone (or the author even) post some examples. please? 🙂

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My Favourite Place Creative Writing

Type of paper: Creative Writing

Topic: Utopia , Heat , The Reader , Riding , Shore , Bottom , Flumes

Published: 11/25/2019


Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach in South Carolina is my favourite place in the whole world to vacation – it is my idea of paradise. I love its beach and the sound of the waves lapping against the shore; I love the shops and the restaurants; I love its humid heat too. Unlike other places, it is incredibly easy to get to as it has its own airport which is great because I hate being in a car for a long time to get anywhere. It has a large population of young people which means that there are lots of fun things to do too.

My favourite aspect of Myrtle Beach is the beach itself though. Although the city is often very humid (its average high in July being around 91 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Weather Channel), its position next to the Atlantic Ocean helps to cool it down slightly with a sea breeze - making it the perfect place to relax. I can happily spend hours laid out on the beach: sunbathing, listening to music, chatting to friends or even just enjoying the atmosphere. I also love strolling along the city’s boardwalk – named the country’s third best by National Geographic magazine – enjoying the live music that is played there most weeks. If the beach isn’t enough water, I like to go to Myrtle Beach’s very own water park – Myrtle Waves: I love riding the flumes – the feel of the water as you hit it at the bottom is unparalleled in my opinion.

These are just to name a few of my favourite things to do here: Myrtle Beach is my idea of paradise because it’s relaxing, exciting, interesting and fun all rolled up into one location – complete with heat and lots of young people to hang out with too.

The Narrative and Descriptive Elements

Whilst writing about Myrtle Park, I felt myself slipping into a particular mode – as if I was trying to sell it to the reader. Therefore, I fear that the descriptive elements out-number the narrative ones, although I have tried to include some so as to avoid it reading like a travel brochure. Throughout the paper, I used phrases which describe the area, such as: “It has a large population of young people which means that there are lots of fun things to do too” which is designed to give an idea of the sort of people there – it describes the population of Myrtle Beach. Whereas other sentences such as “I love riding the flumes – the feel of the water as you hit it at the bottom is unparalleled in my opinion” is a narrative element because it features my opinion and it helps to ‘flesh out’ the description of the area with a first person account.

Frequently, where I have written a descriptive phrase, I have followed it with a narrative one which helps to make the text less formal and more personal. Therefore, the narrative relates to the descriptive in order to give the reader a more ‘three-dimensional’ presentation of what I am talking about. This is patterned throughout the paper – I address a descriptive element about the area (e.g. the beach) and provide the reader with a narrative element about it (e.g. the waves lapping against the shore). This helps to enhance the reader’s mental image of what I am discussing and encourages them to consider whether they would also like that too. The descriptive and narrative sentences are designed to work in conjunction with one another like this, where they will provide the most rounded representation of Myrtle Beach possible.

National Geographic. (n.d.). Top 10 US Boardwalks. Retrieved from http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/top-10/us-boardwalks/#page=1 The Weather Channel. (n.d.) Monthly Averages for Myrtle Beach. Retrieved from http://www.weather.com/outlook/health/fitness/wxclimatology/monthly/graph/USSC0239


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Writing About Place


Techniques for writing about real places and settings effectively.

Regardless of genre, the use of setting in creative writing is of singular importance. However, there are further complications to the use of real world settings in your writing. Whether an author claims an alternative history, or a parallel world, there are particular expectations from readers about the way in which a setting in a real place is shaped. This following discussion is going to outline a number of recommendations for writers when considering how to best develop real settings.

Meg Mundell in her discussion of literary place-making comments that “every story takes place somewhere ,” 1 and offers the five modes of place-orientated experiential techniques (POETs) as a structure for writers. Mundell’s model is a practice-based framework designed to help with the process of literary place-making. As a set of techniques it is well considered and offers useful advice specifically to those writing in real places.

The five POET techniques are Retrospective, Immersive, Collaborative, Vicarious and Nebulous, and will be unpacked in more detail through the following discussion. I will also discuss some perceived complications, adjacent values, and demonstrations of application. This discussion is designed to offer writing advice, but is not a step by step writing process, rather I invite the reader to take from it what would best benefit your own writing.

POET One: Retrospective technique

The first technique Mundell outlines concerns the harnessing of place-based personal memories. Both recent and older memories can be utilised and can often be a powerful source as our memories are not the visuals alone. Rather memories come with additional sensory and emotional information that can help an author provide a setting with more than just description. The retrospective technique, Mundell states, is drawing on autobiographical memories of place.

Revisiting memories

It is easy to see the value in starting here. Most authors will draw from their own experiences when developing their narratives anyway. This may not correspond directly to the plot or characters, but rather is often utilised in a myriad of ways throughout the stories. For instance, an author could consider the inclusion of a particular habit that takes place in a certain setting. Such as crouching down to run their fingers through the sand when they visit the beach. Or it could include a preference by a character for a certain season or time of the day. Even without noticing most authors will utilise their own preferences and memories to populate a narrative’s setting.

Memories, as mentioned, are incredibly powerful. It is not just the visualisation but the encoded states that accompany these. For example, when trying to utilise the setting of a windswept coast in the narrative, a writer may remember the coast line where they grew up. This will be encoded with polysensual information such as smells and tastes, the feel of the cold air on their skin, or how the salt stings sunburnt skin, or how cold the water is first thing in the morning. It will also be populated with corresponding emotions, such as pleasure, joy, or even grief and despair. This is a rich place for an author to draw from to help create settings that resonate meaningfully with the reader.


A retrospection does not need to rely upon memory alone. Photographs, video, even collected items from visiting these places can be useful. They can help clarify descriptive details, such as the specific type of blue of the ocean in the morning. They could also provide context for memories, such as exactly where something is located. This can be useful to then prompt further research into that place. They may also work to jog memories that have faded with time.

There is power in harnessing these personal memories. At times it can be easy as a writer to focus on the plot and dialogue, to the degree when a scene becomes merely talking heads in a vacuum. Retrospective techniques invite the author to immerse themselves within a place. To feel and exist in that place. Polysensual inclusions in writing are important, these refer to the use of senses in writing, but more specifically the use of multiple senses (as opposed to just sight, which is just description) when creating place. 3 By drawing not only on sight, but also on the sound of the crashing waves, the smell and taste of salt in the air, the feel of the breeze on the skin, all of this creates a more meaningful sense of place than simply describing a blue ocean.

POET Two: Immersive technique

The immersive technique is the direct encountering or experiencing of a place. This refers to the use of site visits by the author themselves. This has already the obvious limitation of access. A site that is difficult to access, especially in a Covid world, can limit the availability a writer has to the immersive technique. However, this limitation is confined to very specific places. For instance, I may not be able to visit a market in Delhi easily, but I can visit both in-closed and outdoor markets near my home. No, I am not going to be able to capture the resonance, the very flavour, of the real experience, but there are commonalities that I can access. To divide this into two categories I want to examine immersion in specific place and immersion in general place.

Experiencing and even recording real places

Immersion in specific places

Immersion in specific places refers to the ability to actually visit a location. Mundell refers to this as the primary purpose of this technique and highlights the importance of accessing “an immediate sensory and emotional engagement with place.” 4 This is a powerful experience, to be able to stand in a real place and just be in the moment. This can be especially powerful when we consider very unique opportunities, such as visiting the pyramids in Egypt or to go snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef. Such real experiences would be hard to mimic even through the viewing of film, documentaries and photographs of that place. It is also helpful when visiting such specific places to create your own documents that can be used throughout the writing process using the retrospective technique.

The immersion in a specific place can also be about capturing specific themes, tones and polysensory information that are unique to not just that place, but the specific time you are there. For instance, visiting the highlands of Scotland is very different in summer and winter to the degree that it can feel as if they are completely different places. The contrast of the place to also the writer’s own sense of place is very important. To understand and perceive a different cultural or historical location can be hard to experience without being there, without experiencing the “culture shock” for yourself. These are experiences that make it hard to replicate in any other way.

One alley in a Cairo Souk, Egypt

Immersion in a specific place is also about time. To visit the Cairo souks for the day may give a small snap shot of that place, but to spend a month visiting at different times and with different people would begin to help capture the essence of the uniqueness of these bazaars. Immersion can also offer the access of the collaborative technique, where talking and getting to know the people in a place can help shape an understanding of what it means, its very spirit. Finally, immersion in a specific place can also be a place the writer has lived their life, a place they have seen every season with, a place that is resonate already with their lived experiences. This is an immersion that is hard to replicate for any other writer.

Immersion in general places

However, as mentioned, a writer cannot always access a real place, and not always for a long enough period of time to develop a deep understanding of the essence of place. There are other techniques, such as retrospective if you’ve visited before, or collaborative by accessing other’s experiences, that can be used to off set this. However, this does not diminish the importance of drawing on immersive techniques.

A story is made up of a hundred small places. The larger setting may be Cairo, but there will be cafes, streets, museums, parks, waterways, farms, lounges, kitchens, bedrooms, and more. A hundred little places that all have their own construction and add to a larger real sense of place. An immersion in general places can help support the construction of these. What are the smells and sounds of a café? How does it feel to stand in a park in the middle of the city in the middle of Autumn? What ways do people set up their bedrooms and what does this say about them? An author can engage with real places in an immersive manner wherever they are.


What then is the act of the immersive technique? The act of immersion is captured well in its definition. It is first to have an “absorbing involvement.” 5 What does this mean? It means not being on your phone, not thinking about what to have for dinner. It means actively working through a set of observations: what do I see? what makes this place unique/special/important? what do I feel/smell/taste? what are the levels of sound present; obvious, ambient, distinct, uncommon? The writer needs to be absorbed in the place and focus only on the recording of the place. Later visits it can be useful to then picture how your character/s interact with the place, but for the first visits it needs to be an absorbed involvement.

Secondly, it is “based on extensive exposure to surroundings…that are native or pertinent to the object of study.” 6 This is more referring to being immersed in learning, but this can apply to the writer. We are making an extensive study of place. This refers to the need to return multiple times to the same place to learn its different moods. It is helpful also during these processes of immersion to keep autoethnographic (auto – personal experience, ethno – understand experience, graphy – to analyse) 7 notes of your own thoughts and experiences of the place and reflect upon your interpretation of place based on your own personal history. For instance the emotional tenor of your writing about a particular park could be impacted by the fact you were dumped here by your greatest love. This does not diminish the value of your observations, but it needs to be reflected upon that this could influence your construction of the sensory elements of that place. For instance, when describing the park’s dreary, miserable environment, this is perhaps not the place to set the most uplifting part of your story.

Being in a setting

POET Three: Collaborative technique

The collaborative technique addresses some of the issues raised in the immersive technique as it utilises sources and people that already exist. Mundell explains this technique as “tapping into an accumulated stock of place-based cultural knowledge.” 8 This can include the access of intertextual sources such as written or visual artefacts or interpersonal sources such as interviews, conversations and so on. There are three great source accesses that all writers have for collaborative use, and that is the internet, already published stories, and the people in their lives.


This technique is also important as it is the first opportunity for the writer to move beyond their own perspective. Retrospective and immersive privilege the author’s own experiences and context, which is a valuable source for all writers, but is limited when considering the diversity of perspectives and experiences that a story should include. Place is a multifaceted thing, it belongs to everyone and it is not experienced in a singular, linear manner. Collaborative as a technique is important in addressing this concern.

There are of course limitations to this approach. Firstly, a writer needs to learn to operate outside their own echo chamber. A story where everyone has the same background, same point of view, and same experiences is not particularly interesting. A writer needs to read outside of their preferred genres, they need to watch different things, and they need to talk to different people. This can often be framed through the importance of research. Most authors conduct research for their writing. Not necessarily to the degree of being academic research, but they explore sources for historical information, cultural perspective, to find other experiences they have not had. A beginning place is often film and novels as these help show social uses of shared spaces that a writer can draw from. This is also the area where there is an opportunity to apply these techniques to a secondary world story. For instance, it is unlikely that a writer will have an opportunity to experience outer-space for themselves, but through accessing stories, film, even lived experiences of real astronauts, a writer can access shared understandings of this place.

Interpersonal connections

Collaborative techniques also open opportunities to engage not just with place, but with the people that populate them. Ask five of your friends what the beach means to them and they are likely to give you five nuanced experiences. It is also an opportunity to make use of artefacts in the same way that is done retrospectively; that a writer can make use of artefacts such as maps, webpages and photos, to explore a place. To collaborate is to experience place through more than a writer’s own eyes, and this can only enrich a narrative.

POET Four: Vicarious technique


The vicarious technique can be understood through a number of points, but at its heart it is the act of empathising with place. The writer through their vicarious emplacement of themselves into a place, can “mobilise perspective-taking and narrative empathy to help emplace characters within the story.” 9 This is the act of feeling about a place by imaginatively inhabiting the place through the body of the character. We, the writers, feel how this place feels through their own context and experiences. This is where instead of the park being where you were unceremoniously dumped, it is the park the character remembers swinging on their father’s arm in. The place, its setting and environment, may not change, but the resonance of the emotion can change.

creative writing describing a place

This technique is about considering how the place can be used to position the reader’s experience. Mundell refers to this as “how stories resonate for readers, as the body and emotions become shared sites of understanding.” 10 A character that inhabits a place that can be experienced sensuously rather than simple described, works to provide the reader with access to a real experience in that place in that moment in the context of the story. This is more likely to activate the reader’s own empathy and engage them in the story. This technique is largely a part of the act of narrative writing, however, Mundell is right in calling it out directly. A writer needs to actively consider not only the character and the plot in this moment, but the setting and place. How can the setting be used to help evoke the tone? For instance, if the character is scared, this means different things if they are standing in a darkened dead end alley, or are in their kitchen at home, or are on a train during rush hour. The place can inform the plot, but it will also influence the theme and tone of the scene.

POET Five: Nebulous technique

The final technique is nebulous, both in name and approach. This is the technique that refers to, as Mundell states, “such slippery phenomena as dream content, ‘pure imagination,’ subconscious formulations, intuition, the sublime, the uncanny, hauntings, and genius loci.” 11


Many writers have said they drew content for their work from dreams, and indeed the surreal mashups of our subconscious can yield a fascinating sense of place. This technique can also refer to the combining of places that a writer has experienced or researched, or the combining of other’s experiences into a single place. It can also be the changes made to an experienced place to evoke fantastic inclusions in place, such as the appearance of a set of stairs in the middle of a forest that lead…somewhere. The nebulous technique allows the writer to challenge the limitations of the real into what they need for their narrative. This is the opportunity to draw on retrospective experiences and combine them with immersive techniques and research from collaborative techniques to make a place feel new, unique and that it belongs to your narrative.

This is often the purview of speculative fiction, but it can also be used in realism, and is very effective in giving a sense of place the thematic elements needed for that scene. This is also an area important for consideration for genre writers (fantasy, romance, crime, etc.) where a reader has a particular set of expectations around tonal and thematic elements that need to be present in the setting. Although a writer can play with these archetypes and expectations, it is important to be clear in the promises made to readers about setting. For instance, a gritty crime novel means readers expect late night police stations/detective offices, nightlife areas, run down districts, rain or dark cold nights (note the repetition of night). If a writer is not planning on delivering this they need to be very clear at the start, for instance the TV show Death in Paradise already uses the title to call out this setting change. But even in this idealised, azure ocean, setting most of the above settings are still present. The nebulous technique allows for creative freedoms, but it is still embedded within the creation of place and draws from the writer’s experiences of the other four techniques.

Dream content

Writing place is of central importance to all writers. It is more than a backdrop setting, a cardboard cut-out to frame the characters, it needs to be embedded deeply in a polysensual manner that helps resonate with the reader experience. Meg Mundell offers the POET format for approaching and considering the writing of distinct places. A writer who utilises retrospective, immersive, collaborative, vicarious, and nebulous techniques when developing the settings of their narratives will hopefully find a construction of a rich, meaningful sense of place emerging.

Writers and readers, what do you think about writing about real places?

Works Cited

  • Mundell, Meg. (2018). Crafting ‘literary sense of place’: The generative work of literary place-making. The Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature , 18(1), 1-17. https://openjournals.library.sydney.edu.au/index.php/JASAL/article/view/12375 ↩
  • All images are sourced from Creative Commons ↩
  • Westphal, Bertrand. (2011). Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces . New York: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230119161 ↩
  • Mundell, pp.9-10 ↩
  • “Immersion.” (n.d.). Merriam-Webster . https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/immersion ↩
  • Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., & Bochner, A.P. (2011). Autoethnography: An overview. Historical Social Research, 36 (4), 273-290 ↩
  • Mundell, p.10 ↩

What do you think? Leave a comment .

Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

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Writing About Place


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Much as I appreciate a well drawn setting, I feel it needs to resonate with the characters… otherwise it’s like sitting in the theatre after the actors have left.

Place in fiction often lingers more vividly after characters and the intricacies of plot have faded. Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders is my favourite novel for the setting more than anything – the isolated hamlet of Little Hintock. The novel’s central characters reflect the beauty and harshness of the land: the unsophisticated Giles Winterbourne is described as ‘Autumn’s very brother’ yet it is the same unsympathetic forces of nature which bring about his untimely death. Hardy’s Wessex is often idealised but it was, as Hardy showed us, often a brutal place in which to live and work – the young Jude Fawley has a premonition too early in life of rural England’s exhausted sterility. The pastoral world of Hardy’s novels often drained the life out of people just as the harsh deprivations of London did for Dickens’ characters.

I was thinking today of the possession of place which is so deeply ingrained in the British psyche: to possess bricks and mortar, to possess land, and yet English literature’s greatest literary achievements often depict characters who have been excluded from this process for one reason or another. Literature often provides an alternative world where many people can reclaim a sense of place and belonging denied to them if they haven’t subscribed to the mortgaged existence. The cost of not subscribing can often be calamitous and Hardy’s greatest achievement for me in Jude the Obscure was showing so powerfully Jude’s rootless existence and the cost to his ambitions for not having a fixed abode.

There is nothing redeeming about the places described in Jude and Hardy shows how warmth and shelter in this possessive-obsessive land is often found in a warm pub or in a train compartment. (And this cruel government is even make these small refuges inaccessible to swathes of the population.)

I would venture to say that it is place, more than character or plot, which tell us so uncomfortable home truths about the world we live in.

I thought place was a really interesting extra dimension in novels until I read Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers when I was on holiday in Galloway. Sadly the book was as interesting as a railway timetable but I did learn just how many trains used to run across vast areas of the Southern Uplands now completely devoid of public transport.

I tend to not write about real places because I’m way too lazy about trying to get things right and accurate.

Yes: our memories are hearing; taste; touch; smell; vestibular; interioception and proprioception.

Moving through a specific place at a specific time as a specific person – and then doing this with the focus character in the focused plot and their point of view/perspective.

I tend to use Collaborative Placemaking as an author.

For me, it is an issue of scale. I obviously use real places for the large scale (planet, country, state, etc) but as the scale grows smaller it becomes more fictitious.

For example: United States (real), Tennessee (Real), Nashville (Real), Lake Charles St. (fake), Metro Police Station 16 (fake), office of Detective Mark Able (fake), Middle left drawer of Able’s desk (fake), a photograph of his wife Dorothy standing in front of the Hermitage (fake picture of a real place?)

Using real places in fiction can be useful. A terrific aid to the writer in visualising the action and maintaining consistency.

Great writeup. Just remember writers, you are describing a fictional version of that place. You can’t expect the reader to know everything, so make sure to describe it as if it were totally made up.

But then you have to get all the little details right for all the people who live there/. 😛

I prefer fictional area in real place. Like fictional small town in real state.

Thing is, you really don’t need to get all the little details right.

Sure, the big details are important – like knowing whether the village is on the east or west coast so your characters can either see a sunrise or a sunset.

But nobody really cares if you get the distance between two buildings slightly wrong, or if the snicket down the side of the pub doesn’t actually lead to a small stream at the edge of a wood, but to a carpark with a load of bottle reycling bins.

There’s a Jackie Chan movie set in Melbourne (sorry, I can’t remember the name). It’s pretty obvious to locals that when Jackie goes up an escalator on one side of the city he shouldn’t pop up on a street at the other side of the city, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the movie at all.

I like how in one scene in Umberto Eco’s Il pendolo di Foucauilt (I’m not sure if that is the correct title as I am not native English/Italian speaker) there is a dialog exchange between two monks who are walking on a real-life-based street, and the length of the dialog is exactly same as you would actually have realistically if you were to walk there. Though I dont think that amount of dedication is necesarry.

The English title of that book is indeed FOCAULT’S PENDULUM.

[some of us think Michel but this is a much older Foucault – like Middle Ages ancient/medieval].

Very veridical, isn’t it?

Have admired Eco since I was a little girl and NAME OF THE ROSE became popular.

To me, it comes down to what kinds of creative liberties you plan to take in your setting. By that I mean, don’t put the onus on me to know when you are writing fiction and when you are pulling from reality. Don’t use real street names if you plan to make up street names too, don’t use real neighborhoods and also invent new ones, etc.

Be aware, people will try to catch you for pulling from reality without doing your due diligence, e.g. getting simple details about the town wrong, like driving past landmarks in an impossible order (Sleepless in Seattle).

I have used real cities for modern fiction. I set mine in Toronto because I can reference a realistic space in my mind as I write. However I have always liked the tongue in cheek of GTA where they are clearly set in Miami, or New York, etc.

Place makes so much sense as a writer.

It’s the double-edged sword of being aware of who we are and where we are: To be able to know what is, has been and will be disassociates us from our present reality: Our connection between what we are and where we are. But it’s a powerful tool to be able to “reality-generate” and inform on what our future might be and therefore change reality to reflect ourselves?

hmm, that would make a good poem…

The Age of Misrule series by Mark Chadbourne made use of a lot of real places, both well known and obscure – everywhere from Stonehenge to the Saint Lawrence Church and the Hellfire Caves of High Wycombe. It added a lot of interesting flavour to the stories.

If you’re going to use real places in your writing, get them right – use places you can either visit or learn about in extensive detail.

I’ll use real cities or make up my own depending on what serves the particular piece I’m writing.

My Sci fi project I’m currently working on is a combination of both- assuming much of northern California has urban sprawled it’s way into one metro area. The last thing I wrote took place in a fictional small town. In general I’ll use real places by default unless I have some narrative reason to make something up just based on the principle that it’s always best to write what you know.

I find writing places to be extremely difficult, even when I’ve been there or studied it on Street View, so I can only imagine trying to invent a new city from scratch.

It’s just hard to be consistent with scale, detail, and functionality of the location. The final Hunger Games book is (IMHO) a great example of failure in that regard, and it feels like most locations only consists of about five blocks and maybe twenty people total.

Using a real place can also be tiring if it is over explained. I, a Pittsburgh resident, once read a book set in Pittsburgh and every paragraph seemed like going redicilously through the Google Maps streets and landmarks. But if you make up a city you also run the risk of overbuilding the world.

In my own short fiction I have a fascination with geography and location, but I try to take an approach of “do research, get facts straight, then make implications from there.” I wrote a bit about a little town I’ve never been to and I made sure to research demographics, population, etc. to place my character where he would have been and make sure my details lined up with reality. Then, from that information, I built the culture and atmosphere and metaphor of the town outwards from the cold hard facts.

Using an actual place just makes things harder. You have to do more research and people will nitpick the details.

Me, personally, I write about places that I’ve actually been to but don’t know a whole lot about. I have been to the Bay Area but never did some in-depth exploring of the area. I did visit a lot of the little cities in San Mateo County and so most of my writing is based on the places that I have actually been to and know a little about.

I didn’t do a lot of Exploring of S.F. but did go to to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf quiet a few times. I also did walk Market Street a few times and went to the Westfield mall. So majority of my writing revolves around those areas that I’ve been to and sites that I had seen before. It makes writing WAY more easier when you’ve actually been to a place and heard the sounds and seen the sites in person.

Knowing where something is is not the same thing as being a resident.

I personally prefer generic/imaginary cities unless it’s super iconic, eg Paris, London, Munich.

Yes, me too. Or rather, if someone sets it Smalltown, Ruralia I really don’t need a vast amount of details about the actual Smalltown, Ruralia. It can end up feeling very parochial and even exclusionary if the tone isn’t right.

So I tend to avoid names and go for things like “main road”, “high street”, “upmarket suburb”, “central park”, “town square” when describing geographic features within a real town. But usually mine are invented, even if they’re based on something.

I’ll take Smalltown, Ruralia. I’ll rename it Littletown. I then have the freedom to add and subtract what features I like.

Most of my projects are set in different places of the world and so I did a lot of research with Google Maps/Earth, websites about those specific cities (not always big ones like New York or Tokyo) and there’s some I’ve been to too but it’s more for geographic purposes than to do a complete showoff of the culture and things like that (and my projects are also mostly set in the future so there is place for creation even there).


This is an interesting read! It would be fun to put some more of these ideas in the context of specific genres and see where there’s overlap or divergence in the usage of techniques. I loved where this was touched on in the nebulous section 😊

This is an amazing article that I will be utilizing in future writing projects. It is very well written and is very helpful for a writer. I didn’t even know there was a technique for writing locations, much less multiple.

I use almost exclusively fictional settings. Many of my stories take place in a city, but the city is either fictional or just vague. I don’t live in your standard big city, so I’m not all that familiar with any of them, so I prefer to invent fictional cities. I go the DC route where Metropolis and Gotham are both fictional cities but are based on New York, for example.

A lot of fictional things are based on/inspired by “real” things and aren’t expected to be 100% accurate. So writers, live a little bit and don’t barrier yourselves. 🙂

A while ago I had the idea of setting a story in my old high school, but for creative reasons/limits I decided to set it in the same world as my epic fantasy trilogy.

I read a book recently that took place in Washington. The author mentioned people heading from Portland to Washington and stopping in Eugene on the way. You can’t stop in Eugene on your way to Washington if you start in Portland. That one error made me suspicious of other geography and historical points from there on out.

My dad is writing a book right now and all the places are real. The only problem he has is finishing the story, like will the places still exist when he finish it.

The best advice given to me is to write what I know.

Very interesting article! I learned a lot about world building.

Authors have been writing about real places as long as there has been writing!

Real places help bring some realism to stories that I personally enjoy, but that’s just my personal bias.

I like books that set up place well, it allows me to enjoy the action that then happens there. I recall one book “Inside Out” that used place in a unique way that surprised me and made the book memorable. I thought it was occurring in an enclosed place on earth, but it was totally satisfying when it was revealed where we actually were. 🙂 Thank you for your essay, it is a really good resource. Place is almost another character in the story I guess, in as much as you need to keep track of where it is at and how it interacts with the action.

I generally go the demi-real method. My story does take place in California, but fake cities within it.

I would love to read a book set in my city even if the story was insane and made us all out to be evil villains. It would be fun to read!

It’s fun to imagine things happening in our real world. Most people have the ability to suspend their disbelief and understand that it’s just a story.

I’m rereading Philip Roth’s The Anatomy Lesson now where place has a center in the story. Much of the book is about the main character’s past at The University of Chicago. At about the midway point of the novel, he returns there and attempts to regain his youthful vitality.

Character and setting tend to blend together for me. The lines between the two are kind of blurred since an individual and his/her environment inform and mirror each other. Thank you for these helpful tips on how best to improve the immersive experience of one’s writing!

A good example of writing about place is “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness is set partially in the Bodlian, University of Oxford. Just an example off the top of my head.

I think places like Oxford have sort of entered the public domain of places that are acceptable to set a story. Its instantly recognisable and its been around for so long and has been written about countless times before by others. Another story set in Oxford (at least for a part of a story) is Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials for example and I can assure you that the Oxford there does not match the Oxford IRL.

Yes, that is another one, although I would agree the “Oxford” in Pullman’s book is more some parallel universe type of Oxford.

I use real places down to the level of picking out hedges and storm drains!

I get pretty obsessed with making my settings match real world places. I wanted a water tower in one of my novels set in upstate New York, so I literally went searching for a neighborhood where one exists just like in my story and based it there. Google Earth has been a blessing.

I love that!

So glad I’m not the only one getting creepy with Google Earth up in here.

I think Patrick White’s town ‘Sarsparilla’ is a great name for a place.

I love learning new techniques for effective creative writing. These five techniques can unlock a whole new type of relationship between writer to reader. I resonate with this article because I always thought that any type of literature grants the readers an opportunity to travel around the world, learn different cultures, and maybe even discover themselves by the end of the story. And that is all due to effective writing techniques.

While it is true that everything happens somewhere, it is not true that every narrative has to include the setting. Setting can be expressed through feelings, and never mentioned at all.

Enjoyed this article, thoroughly!

I think it is interesting that you say that dreams can be a way of adding an element of surreality to the setting.

This gave me a lot to think about. Wondering if anyone has any thoughts on how to translate this into non-fiction writing? What aspects can we keep/what differences should we be mindful of?

Writing about a setting or place, or about a person (etc) in a place is much more easily (and believably) done if writing about what one knows. Unless the novel is fantasy, it’s generally not easy to imagine a place one has never been and put that in their writing authoritatively.

Jack Walton

One interesting counterpoint to this framework could also be to think about the methodology of writing place—once one is enmeshed in the nitty-gritty of pen-to-paper or hands-to-keyboard perception seems to shift a bit. I find it helpful to consider how place can be induced from the pen as well as being approached in a more deductive way based on prior decision-making.


As someone interested in stories about fantastical settings, I haven’t previously tried the technique of visiting places to write about them, but this article has provided me with a new perspective on this technique. I am intrigued by Mundell’s idea of spending time in a place to capture the “feeling” of being in that place, as opposed to only focusing on the objective aspects of it, and how this can be applied to writing about similar settings, real or imagined.

I think there is such a risk writing about real place settings. If the representation doesn’t align with the readers view/expectations you can lose them before they are hooked on the central story arc.

Michael Crummey also gave an excellent lecture about this that was turned into a book called “Most of What Follows is True: Places Imagined and Real” that discusses his experiences and ideas about setting fiction in place.

Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

Thanks for sharing that Emily – I will check it out 🙂

Very interesting topic ! With experience the reader may spot when a scene is juxtaposition of idea bricks (just a decorum) or a coherent piece. It always fascinated me how a writer can put anchors in our head to see a place but only to make us feel something completely different than just a background. It is even perfect at some point when you forget about it and just feel emotions.

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