When to Describe Setting: Selection, Condensation, and Integration

Hey everyone! Today I’m going to be teaching you when you should describe setting.Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 2.39.03 PM


Now, I’ve talked about setting before (why its important and how to create it) but today we’re going into a little more trickier side of setting: When we should describe it. 

Now, why would we need to know when to describe our setting? After all, setting is in every single sentence of our book-everywhere that our character’s go-there’s always going to be setting around them. 

Well, technically, we’re actually not going to be describing the setting in every sentence. It will, of course, be around our characters, but there’s only certain moments which we should choose to describe it. 

So, when that moment comes, we don’t want it to fall flat, right? 

Today I’m going to be helping you choose when to describe it in these three tips:


1. Selection

Selection is choosing what you want to describe.

Here’s an example of selectional setting: The sun shone above the village, its rays shining above the houses, lighting up the sword which was still deep in the stone. 

(I went a little ‘King Arthur’ there, I guess.)

The idea is, there are trees in the area, right? Did I describe them? No. There is no need. 


There are two reasons:

  1. Most people will be able to envision the area with this description in their heads. They don’t need to be told that there are trees. (They probably won’t specifically imagine trees, of course. That’s probably why we want to expand and give them everything so that they can picture everything, right!? Not really.) So, yes, although they probably won’t think of trees, they don’t need to be told about them. Which leads straight into our next reason:
  2. Why not? Well, once more, I hate to break it to you, but: Nobody wants to hear pages upon pages about those fantastic trees. Instead, we must only select the details that matter. If we don’t do this, then we will end up with pages of uselessness that would’ve easily been cut out.


2. Condensation

Condensation is the technique of making words tell.

Here’s an example that I found. It’s from a book called The Age of Innocence (I’ve never read this book. I only found the sentence.) where one of the characters, ‘the countess’ as it’s put, is leaving. 

In one, singular swift sentence, the author cuts off the connection between the two:


For a moment in the billowy darkness inside the landau, he caught the dim oval of a face, eyes shining steadily-and she was gone.


She’s…she’s gone?

Although I’ve never read the book, I assume that this was a moment that’d been hinted at (foreshadowed) for a while. Finally, when the time arrives, in ONE SENTENCE, the countess disappears. 

So, how can we learn from this?

Well, most times, when we lead up to a huge moment all we want to do is expand, right? I mean, we should obviously go into as much detail as we can because readers have been waiting for this for so long, right? 


When the moment comes for your big ‘boom’!, condensed (shorten) instead of expand.

You have to try to limit your words, lower the sentences for your descriptions, and sharpen your focus on what you’re describing. 


3. Integration

Integration is the technique of describing the background location here and there during the course of action.

Here are a few examples of integration:

Through the stillness the bird was heard far away, chirping. 

Faraway a bell rang, signalling that it was now five a clock. 

In the distance, he could hear the sounds of the armies footsteps, clattering.

Integration, I believe, is the hardest of the three techniques to master. After all, you’re going into detail about the background location of your book! That’d bore readers even more than in-depth description about your regular setting!

And yet…if you can sneak in integration while describing your setting? It’ll make everything so much more lifelike and realistic!Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 2.39.03 PM

If you use these three techniques, readers will be able to picture everything, which is exactly what you want when you’re describing your setting. 


I hope you enjoyed this post! If you have any questions or thoughts, leave a comment down below.

Thanks for reading!







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When to Describe Setting

8 thoughts on “When to Describe Setting: Selection, Condensation, and Integration”

  1. This is great advice, Mary! I don’t write often, but I’ll keep these in mind when I do. You did such a thorough job explaining! *thumbs up*

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this, Mary! When writing, I tend to *cough* ramble. I like to describe different things and go off on a tangent – alternately, I’ll forget where I am. 😉 Amateurish mistake, but hey, we’re all learning, right? 😛 This was a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much Kellyn!
    Aagh, that’s sooo relatable! I feel as if readers HAVE to know everything about…everything…😆 so I try to cram as much as I can into tiny sentences. And then they turn into paragraphs…and then pages…and then things go way over board.
    Yeah! A few months ago, nothing like this would’ve actually occurred to me, but I’m so happy that now I know!
    Thanks again!


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