I’m working on a rewrite the main objective of which is to get more milieu detail into my novel Witchy Eye. This is fun, and it has me thinking about ways to communicate milieu to a reader, in any book in which the setting is not already familiar. Here are some ideas. This list is not exhaustive.
- If you have an omniscient voice, can simply tell it. I tend not to write this way, but to stick closer to a character.
- You can physically describe distinctive objects. (Don’t waste a lot of time physically describing objects that aren’t distinctive.)
- You can insert in-world documents, poetry or songs.
- Your POV character can remember details to help him interpret things that are happening to him.
- Your characters can make allusions to the setting, tell jokes, insult other characters, etc., using references to the setting, especially where those references already have some meaning to the reader, or where multiple references can build up and create meaning. Be careful. A bunch of such references that aren’t explained or tied together just add up to the indistinct realization that This Place Isn’t Earth.
- You can show culture in the behavior of characters. Are they fatalistic? Individualist? Xenophobic? You can show cultural interaction by showing the interaction of characters from those cultures.
- Bringing characters to a milieu who are not native to it gives you scope to describe the milieu through their impressions and reactions. The more foreign the newcomer is, the more you can describe.