Many fantasy and science fiction, or any genre for that matter, novels are famous for the sense of place they evoke. Great authors can put you on top of Mount Doom (Tolkien’s Middle Earth) or in 1896 New York City (Carr’s Alienist).
In my novel, I hope that I am able to capture a sense of the Spanish countryside and the great peaks that tower over Catalonia. I’m not sure I have succeeded, but I have lots of material to draw from. The very place in which I live is very similar to Spain so I can borrow the well know sense of place I have of the Sierra Mountains and the coastal foothills to write about Barcelona and Baga.
My very first WiP (work in progress) is actually set on another planet very different from Earth. And while on the journey of learning to write a novel, I realized that I couldn’t see my new world at all. It dawned on me that I just didn’t have a sense of the place in my head, so how could I possibly write about it?
So, I set that effort aside to learn the craft (with seven murder mysteries, egad, what’s wrong with me) and along the way I learned that careful descriptions of a place do not necessarily have to be detailed, but rather the relationship between place and character is much more important.
When writing for a new world with a drastically different landscape, it might help to research places right here on Earth that evoke the ‘other’ and read about how people, animals and plants have adapted to those environs.
Here’s one such place: Dallol Volcano
It’s hard to imagine hostile environments if you have never lived in one. This site offers some great visual clues and for the Dallol area, you can learn how people have come to use the place for its harsh resource: potash.
Where have you been that evokes the sense of ‘other’? Have you visited a locale that is like none other? That offers you a sense of place so strong that it catches your breath? And your imagination?