Don’t overlook setting when you write a story. In this post, we look at the how setting influences the elements of your story.
Setting is such a huge part of a novel that is often taken for granted, overlooked and underutilised. Setting is made up of eight overlapping elements. These elements work together to create a complete picture. They also influence almost every aspect of the writing.
How Setting Influences The Elements Of Your Story
1. Setting and Plot
The setting can be a driver for your plot. If your story events are closely tied to geographical or environmental events you will need to ensure that the setting allows for that. In short, if your story is about an erupting volcano make sure there is a volcano or at least a crater.
2. Setting and Character
Where we came from or grew up has a huge effect on who we are as people. A small town character who visits the city will experience it differently from someone who has lived there for years, and vice versa. The places we’ve been, returned to and still wish to go to all influence us and our decisions. Same goes for your characters. Some characters may love small town life and others may hate it. Each character should have, at least, an opinion about the setting.
3. Setting and Viewpoint
Through which character’s eye are we seeing the setting? In the above section I mentioned that each character has a relationship with the setting and when we are in that character’s viewpoint that should become apparent. Are we visiting a cosy, hometown with fond memories and hayrides or a miserable old dump, with stifling traditions and opinionated townsfolk? This can be the same town depending on the character.
4. Setting and Genre
In certain genres we expect to find certain settings. Happy stories tend to have happy settings and unhappy stories tend to have darker settings. Think about a love story set in London. Rainy days and dark corners become romantic, but if you set a crime drama in London rainy days wash away evidence and dark corners are dangerous and threatening.
Sci-fi and fantasy writers have their work cut out for them. Not only do they have to invent and reinvent so many elements, they have to think of new names for everything. World-building is a specialised technique that sci-fi and fantasy writers have to consider and work hard at.
Historical fiction also demands a lot of research and fact checking. Make sure you get it right.
5. Setting and Dialogue
In school we were taught to ‘set the scene’ when we started a story. This usually meant paragraphs of setting description. Today, our stories start with more of a bang, but the trick is, we still need to know where the bang is happening. Dialogue is a great tool to help add setting without sacrificing important information. Make your characters speak about their surroundings.
6. Setting and Pace
I mentioned that setting can help you with the pace of your story. Something like the weather can force your plot forward if, for example, the characters have to escape a threatening storm.
Travelling between two places and the distance they have to cover can also advance or slow down your plot. Are the characters in a hurry ? Do they take the scenic route, the safest route or the fastest, most dangerous route?
7. Setting and Description
Details, people, details, but not too many details. Knowing what to add and what to leave out is a description skill a writer must develop. You must decide if a detail is important to the story or not. Is this a new setting the character is encountering? Then we’ll need more details, but if it is a place they are very familiar with they’ll most likely only notice if something is different.
8. Setting and Change
The setting can force change in your story. It can be the climate, like a drought or floods, that force the characters to move. It can be a new job in a new city that forces the change. The setting, just like a character, also changes during the story. The once sheltering town can become stifling, the derelict town’s fix-up can become a metaphor for your character’s growth.
The Last Word
The options for setting are endless. Consider each one of these aspects when you write. Creating a setting is an art. Work hard to hone your skills.
If you enjoyed these points and would like to learn more about setting, purchase the workbook here: Setting Up The Setting Workbook
by Mia Botha
Buy Mia’s book on how to write short stories: Write the crap out of it and other short story writing advice
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If you’re looking for help with setting, buy our Setting Up The Setting Workbook.