Five Questions

“Description does nothing to move a story forward on its own. It’s how it interacts with the characters that makes or breaks it. What we want, are details that breathe life into both the characters, and the setting.”
Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy is a writing coach and the author of several novels and how-to guides; her site, Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, offers a host of helpful articles. In a recent post, she gave five questions to ask about setting that can help a story come alive:

1. Who’s doing the looking? Each character in your story will look and see the setting around them differently based on their attitude, mood, and knowledge. As Jane suggests: “Think about how they would describe something, not how you would.” Who is your protagonist — what problems are they facing in a particular scene? How will their mood affect the details that create the setting their in?

2. Why are they looking at it? Whatever the setting in a scene, a character interacts with it differently, depending on why they are there: Sometimes they’re happily expectant; sometimes, afraid and alert. As Jane notes, “Your reasons for looking impact what you
see and how you feel about it… using details to bring out an emotion or thought from your protagonist helps make the setting more memorable.”

3. What’s important to them? Whatever the setting, people notice what’s important to them in it and so do characters. Highlighting details that matter can help reveal character; throwing in extraneous details can pull the reader out of your story.

4. What’s important to the scene or story? Sometimes a detail needs to be in a scene to advance the plot; but these should feel natural, not artificial: Bring them in from the character’s point of view and they are meaningful — and telling.

5. What tone and mood do you want? “Small details can really add to the emotion of a scene. They give you opportunities for similes and metaphors that flow seamlessly, because the detail evokes a feeling in your protagonist.”

For the full story and examples, see:
Write on!

About karinwritesdangerously

I am a writer and this is a motivational blog designed to help both writers and aspiring writers to push to the next level. Key themes are peak performance, passion, overcoming writing roadblocks, juicing up your creativity, and the joys of writing.
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6 Responses to Five Questions

  1. Joe Owens says:

    Hi Karin, happy Tuesday! Yes I have screwed on my Tuesday optimist hardhat. I was able to enjoy an uncharacteristically beautiful spring-like day working outside all day with my wife and it has me in a super good mood! Thanks so much for bringing this to us today. I am constantly trying to remind myself about things like this, so I will fins some way to capture it so I can refer to it frequently as a great writing tip reminder. Keep up the fabulous work!

    • Hi Joe,

      Thanks so much for your note and for your kind words —

      you always encourage me and give me a boost!

      How wonderful that in the middle of January, you

      enjoyed a day of spring and sunshine. I love to work

      outside on my porch, too, and have set up a little

      home office in a cozy corner.

      I’m so glad you found the “Five Questions” post

      helpful with what you are working on! I am

      busy revising my children’s novel and have

      printed out those 5 reminders to help me

      juice up my settings — we’re on the same page!

      Write on,



      • Joe Owens says:

        Right now my work/writing space is a couch in the den we converted from a car port. I really don’t have a good way to post things so I can see them, so will have to think about that. I did get something for Christmas from QVC called a Table Mate II. It is like a t.V. Tray, except it is adjustable and allows your work surface to be tilted somewhat like an easel. It will allow me to life my head a little so I am not always staring down at the laptop in my lap.

      • Joe Owens says:

        Oh, plus I also got a set of Bluetooth head phones that I can wear with noise-cancelling so I can zone out of the distractions as I work or write. So all cylinders are humming along fine!

      • Hi Joe,

        Wow — that’s great. Do those headphones really work?

        If so, then I’m going to get a pair — I love to work on my

        porch, but the leaf blowers drive me nuts!

        Write on,



      • Joe Owens says:

        yes, Karin they work great. I am using my phone with them to begin and sometimes I get up t go through the house and to a certain distance it still maintains connection. Be sure to get the noise-cancelling type.

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