(Content generously supplied by Liana Brooks)
A small note on sci-fi settings: There is no setting in fiction more fluid than the ones used for science fiction and fantasy worlds. While books based on real places must resemble the real place sci-fi and fantasy settings are limited only by the author’s imagination and the constraints of the cultures the author creates.
This thesaurus entry is a place to start. Is your setting clean and pristine? High tech? Low tech? Almost no tech? Is the universe peopled by more than just humans? Is there a war going on? All of these factors will change what you sense. What remains the same is a need for all the senses to be engaged. Travelers will always need to stop for the basic essentials (food, fuel, and gossip). Build your world around those needs.
concrete, steal, railings, pillars, light source, buttons, switches, cables, boxes, labels, wooden packing crates, sterile crates, plastic/metal crates, loading equipment, uniforms, ship’s patches/badges, flight information, customs, security monitors, currency exchange, boots, artificial plants, windows/false windows, glass, vents, clipboards, fire, fire extinguisher, weapons, hats, shops, food, pubs/taverns, trams/trains, brightly colored warning signs, speakers, security guards, chauffeurs, diplomats, repair work, blowtorch, welding equipment, replacement electronics, robots, conveyor belt, advertisements, TV/holo screen, suitcases/luggage, battle damage, handles on walls (for zero G), spilled fuel, metal shavings, fighting, shadows, trash, dirt, gleaming surfaces, mech-organic organism, aliens, living tissue walls, travelers (different races &/ life forms), crates, bright tags/hazard signs, vendors, litter, garbage receptacles, robotic loaders, screens displaying news/propaganda/advertisements, neon lighting, elevators & lifts, sparks, tools, welding, repair sites, flashing/rotating lights
people talking, announcements over a speaker system, cargo being moved, ships idling, ships taking off, sonic booms, footsteps on hard surfaces, ventilation system hissing/whining, native animal noises, coughing, metal scraping against metal or concrete, glass clinking, music, coins clinking, electronics chirping, paper rustling, waste disposal grinding, luggage dropping, cloth rubbing against cloth, throbbing of blood or fluid in a living port, The hiss of hydraulics, hawkers calling out, boots clumping down metal stairs, tools dropping with a clang
diesel, frying grease, burnt ozone, fresh air, recycled air, body odors, methane, dust, mildew, bleach, disinfectants, perfume, acid-sharp smell of hot metal, mud, decay, flowers, smoke, drugs, alcohol, oil, grease, machinery lubricants
copper, tin, dust, dry, soap, grease, salt, local food, imitation food from other places, sour, lemon, tang of ‘canned’ air… Um, the writer suggests that you not lick the walls, just to be on the safe side.
air on skin, humidity, breeze, smooth metal surface, pocked surface from damage, cloth against skin, gravity pulling you down, weightless/light, bones grinding/organs grinding, cold machine controls, gloves, rain, snow, hard, firm, bouncy, pliant, pillow-like ground surface, grit, lifting luggage, cargo, boxes, pressing buttons on a keypad, rifling through papers for officials, stretching or rolling shoulders after a long journey, head twisting/tilting/jerking about to keep up with the new sights and sounds, using a handrail to step down from a vessel, feeling floor vibrations through boots, ducking to pass beneath a low overhang, brushing against others, jerking back or to the side to avoid contact with a species that is distasteful to the eye, weaving past pallets of cargo or huddled groups, pulling on ropes/chains, wires to make sure cargo is secure, wandering through crowds (bumping, jostling, pressing), head craned up, rubbing at back of the neck while scanning content on monitors/displays
–The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.
I shuffled up a spot, that much closer to the security wicket. My bones twitched and jumped inside my skin, more than just a side effect of the Levian in my bloodstream. As two armed men swept their wands over a merchant on leave, I considered how much attention it would draw if I left the queue now. Sure, Drew had promised my levels were low enough to not set off contraband sensors, but then my cousin was busted up on Red E half the time, so who knew how many brains cells he’d melted? Besides, he sent me rather than come himself, hadn’t he?
Ena kept her face carefully schooled as the glass air lock whooshed open and a middle-aged male Omnoid walked in. It was just her luck that the new hire had left on break, leaving her no option but to service the client. She pasted on a fake smile and directed him to a table. Of all the races needing a masseuse after a long jump, Omnoids were the worst with their slimy, weeping skin and loose bones. It was like massaging an egg that had broken in the pan.
–Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.
Example 1: (Simile)
Pam stared out the viewer just past the sani-station, pressing her hands against the cool glass. The metta system was one of her favorites, with its gas belts and condensed stars shimmering against the black velvet sky. It was like being alone in an adornment gallery, free to bask in the beauty of precious gemstones and metals without clerks harrumphing over her worn boots and ill-fitting clothing, watching to make sure she didn’t steal something.
Example 2: (Metaphor)
Newly promoted to the Lower Union fleet, Captain Relic strutted along the crumbling tarmac wearing his new colors, a rooster surveying his domain.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.