I used to be a landscaper. You might be thinking rose trellises, wild flower meadows, deciding just where the boxwood hedges would go. Marching around the acreage with a brimmed hat and a notebook, making squiggles and hatch marks to delineate koi ponds and pleached beech mazes.
But no, mostly I was weeding (like for hours and hours, on my knees and often throughout the rainy days of a NY autumn) or digging trenches. I dug a lot of those. BY myself.
Landscaping in writing terms is a whole other thing, and exceedingly more pleasant.
Close your eyes. Are they closed yet? Ok, now imagine youre in a swamp. Use all your senses. Can you smell the fecund mud? Hear the bugling of the bull frogs, the whisper of the spanish moss against the cypress trees, the slither as a croc slides into the water? Feel the warm wet air against your bare skin? Smell the salt of your sweat, the perfume of night-blooming flowers? The raucous cry of some bird, the chainsaw melody of a pantheon of insects.
Yeah me neither cause that was like totally overwritten. But pick a few sensory details to help place your reader where the action is.
The best way is through actual personal experience which of course isnt going to help much if your books is happening on the moon or twenty thousand leagues under the sea, still that drunken swim you took in the cold waters of Bolinas Bay might be helpful. Im just saying. Chances are youve been in water. Perhaps youve visited Mono Lake or the Utahs salt flats? Mabe youve just played in a sand box or made mountains out of your mashed potatoes. Moon scape anyone?
In my latest completed WIP I sent my heroine into a vast basement. I recalled my basement at home. Its damp, it smells, there are oozing things growing up the walls. Useful, but I needed more. Then I remembered an underground parking garage late at night. The buzzing florescent lights, the tacky concrete under the soles of my shoes. And a old bunker overlooking the city of San Francisco. And I remembered how it felt to be somewhere strange, lost, scared, and sizzling with adrenaline.
Earlier I put her up a tree. Its been a long time since I climbed a tree but once I was up it, I remembered how much I loved it. Apple trees are the best- gnarled, fruit to snack on–but oak are good too, and beech. I recalled the difficulty of getting back down the tree. Im sort of cat-like in that way.
Even if youre (as is usual) writing about something outside your direct experience you can find linch pins, something to build on, the small details which make a place feel real.