Determining how much detail to provide about the facts of time and place to provide is as much an art form as constructing the story itself. The first thing to remember is readers are in the here and now, not in the past. There is a collective body of knowledge among readers simply due to them existing in current society. For example, today everybody knows what a cell phone is. However, consider a pay phone. If the reader is under age 30, he or she probably has never seen a pay phone, let alone used one. So, if a character in your story uses a pay phone, it may be appropriate to provide details describing not only how the phone is used, but what it looks like, where it is located, and perhaps even how the bifold doors on phone booths never seemed to work.
Olfactory stimulation can be a powerful vehicle, so don’t overlook the details of smells. Yes, the smells of places can differ throughout history. For example, not so long ago, smoking was very common. The first smell a person experienced walking into a restaurant, or even an office, may have been cigarette smoke. Again, for younger readers who have grown up in virtually smoke-free environments, this is likely a completely foreign concept. Don’t overlook the detail of how the smoke smells. There are many people today who have never even smelled cigarette smoke, so to provide details about the acrid wisps meandering around a room may allow the reader to place him- or herself directly in the room.
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