When I was young, around 18 years old, I tried to come up with a plan. I couldn’t picture myself writing the great fantasy fiction classic from first base. I had to start smaller. So I first tried to describe reality as real and as down-to-earth as possible, so that someone would enjoy reading it.
When I worked with real, experienced moments, I gave my draft to friends to read, and later read it out to them live. I started to draw them out in anecdotes, to convincingly mix reality and fiction, and then I completely omitted the reality when I considered myself ready for it.
In 1995 I got rejection letters from two different publishing houses for two different novels. The fact that they were not impersonal, formulated rejection letters meant a big improvement for me. My fiction novel had been refused because “it should go further than biographical, realistic narration,” whereas my totally biographical novel was refused with the words that I “should stay on the ground, and the story would benefit from a bit less funky fiction and wishful thinking.”
That’s when I knew: I am an author. (I also realized my student life was pretty weird.) I considered the credible description of a fictional setting my personal literary knighting. That’s the evolution of my narrative technique.
My first novel was published by an established publishing house in 2010—fifteen years later. In other terms, that is considered a lifetime. Talent is not enough. If you don’t have connections, you also need luck. But don’t sit back and wait for luck; you have to work for your luck! Friends told me I was literally cornering luck, and that it eventually had to happen for me. By the way, this advice applies to any field you want to work in.
Details make descriptions vivid and real. I’m not talking about simple descriptions of the settings. It makes a difference whether you are, for example, in a forest or in a certain kind of forest.
Depending on the scene, it could be a forest of healthy pine trees in spring, right after a rain shower, or a forest of beetle-infested fir trees with more needles on the floor than on the branches—or are they fragrant eucalyptus trees? What fits your plot, or your protagonist’s mood?
Human behavior is always exciting as well, because you can say one thing but mean something different—and then a gesture might not fit. Observe people! That veers towards behavioral science, but for you it’s enough to attentively look at the people around you. However, you shouldn’t forget to blink once in a while, or you’ll be quickly considered as freak in a coffee shop.
At this point, it is important to tell you that you should always think beforehand about where something must happen. In a novel, as opposed to a film, you have a big advantage: you don’t need to manage a budget, only your creativity and fantasy—and sometimes that is hard enough. Choose your settings, the places where the chapters and scenes play out, to fit in with the content or to counteract it.
Above all, never overdo the setting descriptions. Just enough to be imagined, with all the relevant details, but small enough to leave room for the reader's fantasy. Please take a look at your favorite book How did that author do it? Compare a scene to one of your's. If you like the way he or she did it, then follow it in your way.