Creating a believable and engrossing environment?

fbones24

Journeyed there and back again
#1
I did not know how to title this thread so I apologize in advance. I am currently reading Blood Song and I am loving it. I did realize though that while I am starting to connect with the characters and the plot, I have no connection to the environment. I'm not talking about "world building," but rather the day to day environment that these characters live in. I can't picture it.

I recently read the FArseer Trilogy and the Liveship Trader Trilogy and to me, these books were the pinnacle of "environment building." I could smell Buckeep and could picture walking through the town. In Liveship, I could picture each and every ship and had the feeling of being there with the characters.

Another great example of this, for me is R. Scott Bakker. While much grimmer and darker, I felt like I was experiencing the day to day hardships of "the crusade" as they marched. I was there.

I found the environment in "First Law" poor but incredible in "Heroes." I would not call this a strength of Abercrombie.

So am I babbling or does anyone else know what I'm talking about? If so, any other authors that really thrust you into the day to day environment that the characters inhabit?
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#2
I did not know how to title this thread so I apologize in advance. I am currently reading Blood Song and I am loving it. I did realize though that while I am starting to connect with the characters and the plot, I have no connection to the environment. I'm not talking about "world building," but rather the day to day environment that these characters live in. I can't picture it.

I recently read the FArseer Trilogy and the Liveship Trader Trilogy and to me, these books were the pinnacle of "environment building." I could smell Buckeep and could picture walking through the town. In Liveship, I could picture each and every ship and had the feeling of being there with the characters.

Another great example of this, for me is R. Scott Bakker. While much grimmer and darker, I felt like I was experiencing the day to day hardships of "the crusade" as they marched. I was there.

I found the environment in "First Law" poor but incredible in "Heroes." I would not call this a strength of Abercrombie.

So am I babbling or does anyone else know what I'm talking about? If so, any other authors that really thrust you into the day to day environment that the characters inhabit?
I get what you're talking about, though I have an overactive imagination and I might be filling in details that aren't really there for a lot of books. Perhaps because of this tendency of mine, I'm more of the minimalist school when it comes to descriptions of the environment -- I don't really want to hear the details of feasts (or worse, every freaking meal some traveler has in a tavern, and yes, there are published authors who devote great amounts of time to such minutiae) or to see people prattling on and on about the architectural features of buildings they see EVERY DAY. I'm not saying those details can't be worked in, and a good writer will be able to do so. But I'm able to supply them on my own. I can't say the same for characters or plots created by other people.

I'm guessing that if I ever manage to get published, I'll be one of those people for whom creating this reader immersion is not a strength. I see the scenes clearly in my head, down to the crap laying on top of the bureau or whatever, but I think it would be boring to read, and my tendency is to cut mercilessly. (Sometimes I even write all that stuff in, so I have a better idea of things, but then edit it out later on.) Ideally, every aspect of a story is well thought-out. But you're right, different authors have different strengths.
 

fbones24

Journeyed there and back again
#3
Sneaky, I understand your sentiment and to a certain extent I agree that descriptive writing can become tedious. When done right though, I'm a sucker for it. I too like to use my imagination when reading but I tend to reserve my imagination for characters and how I would relate to them. When it comes to the environment they live in, I think I like that picture painted for me but certainly it must be done the right way.
 

Amaryllis

Journeyed there and back again
#4
I think I'm a bit like Sneaky in that I can assume large portions of the scenery without a lot of trouble. That isn't to say I don't like descriptions though, because I do notice the lack of them, and it annoys me (for instance, did Acacia provide more than a handful of sentences throughout the entire first book to describe any scenery?). Knowing how to pace it is really the key. Unless it's seriously like, impossible to describe without copious detail because it's such a crazy sight, and describing it it seems necessary, then I will skip over the long ass walls of text...not exactly 100% of the time, but pretty close to it. But no description at all just kind of makes it 'not a fantasy world,' but rather just a bunch of heads talking in a blobby, nondescript nothingness of scenery.

Anyway, A Song of Ice and Fire seemed to do it really well. Like all the descriptions in that series, it's very 'movie script-ish.' GRRM provides enough detail for you to visualize what he's talking about, without overwhelming you or boring you with them (I recall the Clash of Kings prologue as being really great at this, for an easy example). Way of Kings is also good, although I can't say the same for the other Sanderson books. The two Dagger and the Coin books are also memorable -- I haven't read Abraham's other series -- falling largely into the GRRM style (although don't expect him to ever describe to you what his races actually look like). Also, maybe I'm misremembering here, because I haven't cracked the book open in a very long time, but I seem to recall Tigana, as one of the few good things I could say about it, having good scenery building.

All I can think of off the top of my head. Bolded so it was easier to find the titles without having to paragraph everything.
 

Hand of Fear

Journeyed there and back again
#5
I've mentioned a few times now about how much I enjoyed Elantris, so I will use that book as an example. I understand where you are coming from, about actually feeling as if you are there in the book I really felt as if I was walking up and down the streets in in the dirt and grime and about grim it would be to live there.

Brandon managed to do this effortlessly, and without extensive amounts of details maybe I'm also filling in the blanks or the book was just so well written it put the images into my head for me. I don't think authors need to put so much information and descriptions of everything little thing, because if your're a reader of any kind of genre you already have an imagination and you make up your own pictures in your head.
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#6
The two Dagger and the Coin books are also memorable -- I haven't read Abraham's other series -- falling largely into the GRRM style (although don't expect him to ever describe to you what his races actually look like).
I thought the first volume of the series was better than the second in this respect. I just remember one whole paragraph in the second book from Dawson's POV where he was thinking about the architecture of a building he'd been in hundreds -- if not thousands -- of times before. And some of the military strategy scenes read like excuses to describe the terrain and borders rather than serving a purpose in terms of planning attacks/defenses. Some of the races are definitely better done than others.
 

fbones24

Journeyed there and back again
#7
Thanks for the recommendations and expanding on this. I think the author's ability to allow you to imagine environments is just as important as description of them. That is a skill that I truly enjoy in my authors. There is a balance between over doing it and doing just enough to open your senses to the environment in the book.
 

Zymologist

Has been in the eye of the world
#8
J.V. Jones is really good at describing a really cold, nasty environment in A Cavern of Black Ice.

I tend to be more of the minimalist school, too, at least in my own writing.
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#9
J.V. Jones is really good at describing a really cold, nasty environment in A Cavern of Black Ice.
That's got to be the understatement of the century. In fact, one of the main things I got out of that whole series was how to survive a cold, nasty environment!
 

fbones24

Journeyed there and back again
#10
I just read the description of "A Cavern of Black Ice" along with some of the reviews. Sounds so up my alley. Sounds quite similar to the dark and dreary Prince of Nothing that I love.

Unfortunately, it looks like this series will never be finished. :(
 

Hand of Fear

Journeyed there and back again
#11
I just read the description of "A Cavern of Black Ice" along with some of the reviews. Sounds so up my alley. Sounds quite similar to the dark and dreary Prince of Nothing that I love.

Unfortunately, it looks like this series will never be finished. :(
They are well worth a read, hopefully she will end up and finish the series at some point.
 

AyameMajikku

Stood on the wall with Druss
#12
I wonder if that feeling is more in how much is written or the way it's written... I'd like to think the latter.

I'm also one who tends to fill in details myself... I know I've skipped over countless descriptions that I thought were too long. ^^' To me, I don't need to know all the little details, but the basics and feel of it--does it feel happy, desolate, hot, cold? Even now, thinking back on various books, I don't remember how the scenery was worded or described, but I remember the feel I got from it and can thus form roughly the same images again. I never really paid attention to that when reading before, but I'd think tapping into the feel of it would not only make it more interesting, but immerse a reader into it better.