“Stare at your world until you discover what it has to offer you,” Jack Hodgins
The amount of detail you develop for your landscape will depend on the level of its ‘character’ you want it to be in your story. If you are writing an adventure that highlights physical endurance and challenge like the Indiana Jones series, then your setting details will be extensive. However if the bulk of your story occurs within a few city blocks, such as West Side Story, then you need the level of a background stage setting—just enough to ground your reader comfortably and realistically in location. You still need the exact specifics to match the tone and atmosphere.
You can either begin from the inside out by imagining the location of your setting visually, and finding the right pieces to fit; or you begin from a natural habitat and focus on the specifics that define your atmosphere and story questions.
For example, perhaps you have a town set on a mountain. You can either choose an existing mountain town and research its natural habitat, or you can choose a mountain, from wherever you want it to be—study its natural landscape and then transplant a town from somewhere else to reside there. The landscape will give the reality to the fiction.
The moors portray an image of beauty, wildness, danger, freedom and loneliness. Desert, ocean, forest, meadow, stream, canyon and island all have distinct characteristics. Even if your character will be interacting with all kinds of terrain there will still be one that is ‘home’ and one in particular that will seem threatening.
Exercise: Choose a key place in your setting. What natural landscape could hold common ground across centuries, and what capabilities could descendants inherit? List examples that could carry both the foundation of setting and the echo of atmosphere.
Share: What kind of terrain lures you for rest and restoration.