Picture this: Your characters are in a gun fight. Bullets flying through the empty air. Nothing but white space all around them. No people running out of the way. No glass to crash through. No busy streets with gridlocked traffic to trap the fight and build tension. No buildings to jump off to avoid the inevitable explosion from a well hidden bomb. No breeze. No season of the year,(Colored leaves scattered over the ground, knee high snow drifts, or sweltering heat from the never ending laser beam of the sun.)

Your environment paints a picture of your world. It pulls the reader in and says to them, “This feels real.” Leave it out and you have the above white space floating around in their imagination; nothing but white space.

How do you choose environment for your characters? That depends on genre of the story. If it’s sci-fie, you might consider a spaceship or an alien world. Romance, Paris or an empty park filled with flowers and colorful trees. Action, I prefer environments we can relate to in everyday life. Offices are not a bad choice. The bank you pass every day. Maybe the school or college you attended.

Pictures are very helpful. Google has a wonderful source of reference, just remember not to use them for commercial use. Then you get sued and you end up like the guys in the first paragraph. (Maybe you take less drastic measures.)

We’ve established that environment is connected to Genre. It is also connected to character type. For instance, You might not find the homeless man who witnessed a murder hanging out inside a jewelry store. You might not find the well dressed assassin hanging out at Walmart.

Where you place your characters tells us a lot about them. How they live. What kind of money they have. What kind of friends or enemies they might have. How they might live. All of these things play on each other.

We humans have been building places to exist since the beginning. We’ve thrived in every environment from the deserts to the swamps. In the mountains and even underground. It’s our job to put our characters in a place they belong.

Can these rules be broken? Yes, break these rules. Maybe your character being in an environment they don’t belong in is part of your story. Maybe they don’t know they don’t belong there. Maybe part of their journey is coming to know that fact.

Weather is definitely important. Is it raining? Is it cold outside? If so, can we see their frosted breath? (Little kids at a bus stop pretending they’re smoking, pushing their breath out with their fingers holding imaginary cigarettes.)

When writing about your environment, remember your six senses. (Yes, SIX) Smell, touch, hear, taste, see, sense. Have you ever walked into a room and had a weird feeling like you’re being watched? SIXTH SENSE.

How do you use the senses. You can use them all but It’s not necessary. A few should be more than enough. Some author’s like to write a paragraph or two and set the scene before their characters interact with the environment. A great example of this style is used often in a book called: Of Mice and Men, a novella written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. It is also a great example of writing accents.

I prefer to layer my description between dialog and action. I find it makes for a story that flows and is never interrupted by a constant output of information. The last thing I want is to push a reader out of the story to talk about a tree for three pages. Total overkill will make someone close your book.

When writing, try to find your own path. Use the method that works best for you and if you’re ever unsure how to handle your environment. Step away from the computer and go take a walk, environments are all around you.