White Room Syndrome

Not too long ago, I shared some basic details about micro worlds with you. Today I want to talk about what happens when you don’t spend enough time developing your micro worlds. White room syndrome is a struggle for me because I have aphantasia, and I can’t visualize anything. The tips I’m sharing today are strategies I use almost every day.

As always, let’s start with a definition. What is white room syndrome?

White room syndrome is a phenomenon that occurs when a writer doesn’t use enough details to describe their setting. The reader is left to imagine the characters talking in an empty white room.

Obviously that’s not ideal. Here are some things you can do to get around it.

First, think about what’s happening in the scene

You don’t need to describe every last detail of a room, but you should highlight things that set the scene. What stands out to your characters? What are they thinking and doing? Find a way to tie the scenery into what’s happening in your story. Or set up a juxtaposition and make the setting details contrast what’s happening in the outside world.

Pick a few focal points

Rather than try to describe an entire room from floor to ceiling, I try to pick a few smaller details that will stand out in some way. Think about things like sleek lounge chairs, photos on the walls, trinkets displayed on an elegant etagere, dirty socks on the carpet. What other little things might attract a character’s attention? Also, remember characters experience a setting with all of their senses, not just with their eyes.

I don’t have a hard and fast rule of thumb for sensory description, but I always try to think about things like how the character’s shoes might sound on the floor or what other noises they might hear, what the room smells like, or things a character might touch and how those things would feel.

Describe it from different angles

You may or may not need to do this, depending on what kind of book you’re writing. If you’re going to reuse a setting, try describing it from a different angle every time your characters are in it.

A character’s bedroom is an easy example. In one scene, they might be in bed, so you describe what they see from there. Next time, maybe they’re at their desk; their focal points from their desk will be a little different than it was from their bed. Another time, maybe they’re getting dressed. They might be standing in front of their closet or a mirror. Also, consider how a setting might change over time. Maybe your character tends to drop things on the floor, or they move their furniture around. Maybe the house catches fire, although that’s a little extreme, and they’re left picking up the pieces after the room is destroyed.

At any rate, reexamining your settings from multiple angles is more work for you, but it helps keep your story fresh for readers.

Use photos for reference

If you’re really having a hard time visualizing how a room should look, it’s okay to find reference material. Pinterest is an option. You can also check out home decor blogs, magazines, furniture catalogs, and even television shows or movies. Combine elements from different sources if you need to. Whatever works.

Let’s add a little color to those white rooms

I hope I’ve given you some good ideas to combat white room syndrome in your stories. If you have any tips, feel free to leave a comment below! Also, don’t forget about those social media buttons! If you liked this post, please share it with your writer friends. Thanks!

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve never heard of this syndrome before, but from your description I can imagine it’s a hole you don’t want to go down!

    Katie | katieemmabeauty.com

    1. It’s an annoying condition, that’s for sure, but practice is a good cure. Well…Practice won’t fix the aphantasia, but I can work on making my writing more descriptive.

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