Is setting a character in your story? It should be. Setting flushes out the story. It grounds us in the moment. We want to see, hear, and smell what the character does. Don’t try to be suspenseful with your setting. You won’t draw your reader in by making them wonder where the character is. Unless we’re two-thirds into a thriller novel and our heroine wakes up knowing nothing except she’s encased in a dark space that smells like freshly cut pine.
Showing setting through your character’s eyes tells us about the character. Setting can show pain, discomfort, nostalgia, joy, familiarity. Every character in the story should see the setting differently. Think about it. Do you see the world exactly the same way your best friend does? I see a tent pitched in the middle of the woods as a torture treatment and an opportunity for serial killers. My husband sees that same setting as an adventure to be experienced. Go figure.
But don’t worry about how well the setting shines in your first draft. Just put down anything. Keep it simple if setting isn’t your thing. Then go back and spend some time with it. Close your eyes and imagine how the character feels in that room or house or farm.
And if setting really escapes you and you want to pull your hair out of your head every time you have to describe a new place then find authors who do setting the way you’d like to and study them. Don’t copy. It won’t sound true to your voice. Study. And practice. Writing is a practice and a journey along a flat road where your tires kick up sand and the smell of salt thickens the air. Sea gulls squawk an early morning greeting while the sun paints the sky in pink.