author, creative writing, writing

World Building; Tips for City Settings

Good morning star gazers and story tellers!

I hope you have all had a productive (or at least, enjoyable!) week. I have mostly been working and studying, but am pleased to have edited a few chapters of my WIP (work in progress). I have also had a bit of a break through on the plot for my second novel, so I am feeling rather inspired!

This morning, I’d like to talk through some tips for ‘City Settings’ when writing a novel. My current WIP is set in London, UK, so of course this huge, bustling city is where I spend most of my time; in my mind, memory and imagination at least. I do try to visit as often as I can, and have spoken before about the importance of visiting your novel’s location. 

For those of you who are working on stories with city settings, be they real or fictional, I hope that some of the tips here will be of use to you. Do comment below, or contact me, to share your thoughts on novel settings. I hope you enjoy the following advice!

1. Choosing a city 
You may begin your story plan simply knowing where you want it to be set. Perhaps it is your home town, or a place that inspires you. I spoke in a previous blog post about the importance of choosing a setting that suits your story. So, if you know you’d like a city setting, but don’t know where, this is the first thing to think about. Not all cities are huge, not all cities are modern, not all cities are exciting. You need to consider the purpose of your setting and then choose a place that fits into the story or, even better, enhances the story.

Thanks to the wonderful world wide web, we have almost unlimited access to information, photos and historical facts about cities from all over the world. Explore these options, watch documentaries, read books and let your imagination run wild. You’ll soon find the city that’s right for your characters and your story.

Slightly important side note: Don’t be afraid to change your location if it doesn’t work. For example, I had always assumed that my second novel would also take place in London. It is where I was inspired and the opening scene worked perfectly there. I soon realised that for other plot reasons, London was too big, too busy. I have since changed the location, because I simply had to. It’s okay to do that. You don’t have to stick to your original idea.

2. Creating a city
If you are creating a city of your own, then you have the luxury of freedom. A fictional setting can be whatever you want it to be, and this allows you to mold and bend the world to suit your story. Of course, fictional places are not without their limitations. You will still need your city to have structure, rules and boundaries. This way the reader will find it easier to relate to your setting and come to understand a world that they will only ever discover through your words.

I also feel that creating a city can apply to real places. For example, you might set your story in a real, non-fictional city, but the story is set several years/decades in the future. In this case, you’ll use the real aspects of the real city, but use fiction to re-create it as it would be in the future. Doing this can be a lot of fun, as you can use real history, but your own future.
writing (1)

3. Consider the 5 senses
I speak about the five senses a lot. When writing about any place, real or fictional, the five senses are what truly capture the atmosphere and bring authenticity to your story. I will list some examples of the 5 senses in city settings below.

Sights; towering buildings, old dirty buildings, shiny modern buildings made of glass, large volumes of people, cars planes and trains, a lack of stars due to light pollution, reflections of lights in puddles, parks and green spaces hidden amongst the grey of the roads and buildings, neon posters, cobbled streets…

Smells; car exhausts and fumes, hot bodies and sweat, food from restaurants or street cooking, wet concrete, warm pavements, cut grass, sewage, dirty water…

Sounds; rushing traffic, sirens and alarms, people talking, people shouting, street performers singing or playing an instrument, planes flying overhead, dogs barking, the wind rushing through the streets, the rain hitting the pavements…

Tastes; stale polluted air, the bitter tang of cheap coffee, fast food, the metallic taste of fear or anxiety…

Textures and sensations; hard concrete floors, being bumped into by other people, sweaty hot sensations on public transport, cold and wet feelings in the wind and rain, uneven surfaces, rough concrete walls, carrying a heavy bag, shoes that are too tight, feet that hurt from too much walking, an embrace from a friend of colleague…

Of course, the five senses will always be truly unique to the circumstances of your setting, your scenes and your characters, but those were just a few ideas to keep your creative mind whirring!


I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above, and please do drop my with a comment to let me know if you’ve ever written about a city. While this is my advice, I am very eager to be given advice too, and any that you may have will help me enhance my own writing in regards to my WIP, so please do lay it on me! You can also contact me by clicking here.

I hope to hear from you and hope you have a great week,
Until then,
Keep writing,

19 thoughts on “World Building; Tips for City Settings”

  1. Sometimes I use places I know and give them different names. That way you can get creative and not have to worry too much about things not tallying up wi the facts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My nanowrimo project from last year took place in my home town (or a deviation of it anyway) and I’m planning another book that I’m hoping to take place in Chester eventually! I loved your advice about the five senses! I will definitely be considering them more when I write my second draft!!


    1. Thank you Freya! Yes I once wrote a short story set in futuristic London and had fun making up new areas and not quite sticking the current city maps. I also enjoyed playing with the “old and new” vibe, but with the “old” being today’s London. Always good fun! x

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Huge fan of the five senses and love the examples you’ve given. It’s easy to forget the senses when you’re writing and relying on just your imagination, but what you’ve listed is the perfect reminder of what to include. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.