Setting is more than just background in writing, it moves the story along as much as dialogue does. Setting provides texture, feel, ambiance, it invites the reader into the story physically. Setting intensifies fear, inspires awe, soothes or annoys even as sound in a movie does. It draws the reader in and captures the subconscious mind engaging all the senses, including that elusive sixth sense. The one that tells us something is coming even before we are aware we know it.
This is especially true of writing in the paranormal genre. Unlike movies, the written word does not have the advantage of that creepy, “eee-eee-eee,” sound effect to warn the reader that something ominous is about to happen. Setting should do that for them and it is our responsibility to craft it well.
One thing I like to do to create setting is to take pictures, lots of pictures, of places, scenery, events–whatever strikes my fancy. Scenes I can envision as book material, whether for the current work in process or for future possibilities.
I usually carry a small inexpensive digital camera with a simple zoom feature along on trips and outings. Then of course there is always the smart phone if I forget the camera. And yes, I do carry a notepad everywhere with me to jot notes, but it isn’t often convenient to sit and write out descriptions in detail. My traveling companions are not likely to have the patience for that, while a few quick snap shots usually prove a tolerable wait. My lengthy rough draft descriptioins would test the patience of a turtle. And for the sights we come upon as we are driving along, I just have to make them stop anyway–writing in a moving vehicle makes me car-sick.
Then too, writing from memory alone is less than satisfying for me. I am a visual learner and I may forget entirely that I wanted to use a particular scene or view, and there can be too many to keep mental track of even on the simplest outing, let alone entire vacations.
Browsing through electronic albums on my laptop when I get home is enjoyable too. Its a pleasant respite and at the same time freshens my memory about that creative setting idea that popped into my head when I first saw–whatever it is. Viewing the actual image of the scenery, events, or people adds color and livliness to my settings. Plus, every time I add new photos to my gallery, I get so excited about the possibilities for my writing it breathes new life into my muse.