“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.” —Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Even if your story takes place completely inside someone’s head, you need to give readers a sense of place. You don’t need long, poetic descriptions, just some handle for readers to grab onto, a small platform to steady them while characters and actions swirl around. The best writing, for me, is more about character development than plot. In many of my favorite books, the setting is as much a “character” as the people: imagine The Shining without the creepy hotel…One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest without the locked wards…Harry Potter without Hogwarts…To Kill a Mockingbird without the fence between security and fear…. In Live Free or Die, Loon Island is a character, and perhaps the strongest influence on and revealing clues into in the main character’s life. (She lives with a moat around her private “castle,” and she likes it that way.) Setting reveals character, showing them over time, through seasons, and in a context.