The Unintended Consequences Of A Lack Of Setting

The Unintended Consequences Of A Lack Of Setting

What are the unintended consequences of a lack of setting in a book?

In How To Create Perfect Settings In Your Memoir, we discussed how to re-create a setting for a memoir or a work of fiction. In this post, we look at one of the points from that blog post in more detail – the unintended consequences of a lack of setting in any story you write.

The Unintended Consequences Of A Lack Of Setting

A lack of setting in fiction writing has unintended adverse effects.

Insufficient setting details create:

1. A Lack Of Genuine Interaction

If you haven’t created a great, detailed setting, your characters will not be able to interact fully with the setting. The characters are limited by what they can and cannot do because you have not included a developed environment. This limits the number of things characters can do while they talk and think. You may have to rely mostly on facial expressions and thoughts to accompany your characters’ actions. This becomes boring and repetitive.

2. One-Dimensional Characters

Your characters have a backstory. They were born somewhere and they grew up somewhere. They surround themselves with possessions. This will obviously impact how they create and interact with their current environment. It affects what they ignore, what they notice, what they choose in their surroundings, what they like, what impresses them, and what scares them. If you can show all of this in the setting and their reactions to it, you will create more realistic, rounded characters. For example, a character born into a comfortable, middle-class home might be ashamed of living in an apartment with a threadbare carpet and dirty, faded curtains.

3. A Lack Of Details

Readers love details. You need to include enough to give a sense of the place. It grounds the story and makes it feel real – as if your readers could imagine being there. Readers read to experience situations, characters, and settings vicariously. The world of the book must feel real. Details are also powerful tools to catch the reader’s attention. As Anton Chekhov said: ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’

If you’re looking for help with setting, buy our Setting Up The Setting Workbook.

4. A Static Environment

If nothing changes and nobody makes use of their space, you will have a static environment. If you create a rich, full setting, you allow your characters to do things while they’re talking and thinking. There are very few people who just sit and think. Most of us are doing something – whether it’s washing the dishes, getting dressed, or vacuuming the carpet. Let your characters pick up their children, cook a meal, or play a board game as they talk. Make the setting interactive rather than static. This will make readers relate to the characters and their spaces in a more profound way. They will empathise with them. This is one of the most common consequences of a lack of setting.

5. A Lack Of Atmosphere

The mood of a story is integral to creating an atmosphere for your story. As we said in a previous post: ‘How readers feel after reading a book or a short story, or after watching a film, is known as the mood in fiction.’  The way we describe things sets the mood. An atmosphere can be created by using setting descriptions, foreshadowing, and motifs.

6. An Inability To Relate To Place & Time

Readers must be able to distinguish and remember once scene from another. If you make it clear where we are, and what our surroundings are made up of, we can place characters in time and space. The feel of a scene set in a work environment must feel, look, smell, and sound completely different to one set in the home or a private vehicle. If your readers can imagine this, they will bond with the characters and care more about their stories.

In Conclusion

This does not mean that you include lengthy, unnecessary, boring descriptions. It means that you should include setting details with your characters’ interactions with their environments.

Use dialogue to talk about setting, use body language to show a reaction to the setting, use the five senses to show the setting, and use the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character as they move through the setting.

If you have multiple viewpoints in your story, you can also show setting details through other characters’ eyes and their interactions with that setting. Something that seems normal to your protagonist might be completely odd to your love interest or confidant.


A great way to understand how integral setting is to the mood of the book, is by looking – really looking – at your own environment.

  1. Choose one of the settings you live in every day – it could be a single room.
  2. Look at everything in it. Make a list of the items in it. (Do not leave anything out.)
  3. Make notes on the state of it – is it clean, cluttered, cosy?
  4. Make a list of what you tastesmellheartouch, and see.
  5. Now write a scene where somebody comes into the room. They ask you for something and you have to search for it. Use all the information you’ve listed above in the scene you write.

If you’re looking for help with setting, buy our Setting Up The Setting Workbook.

 by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

If you liked this blogger’s writing, you may enjoy: 

  1. Why Memoirists Are Their Own Worst Enemies
  2. Why Writers Should Create A Setting Like A Character
  3. The Ultimate Memoirist’s Checklist
  4. 40 Ways To Write About Empathy
  5. How To Choose Your Genre
  6. What Is An Analogy & How Do I Write One?
  7. 5 Ways To Write About Real People In Memoirs
  8. 10 Tips For Retelling A Classic Tale
  9. Characterisation Exercise: Then & Now

If you’re looking for help with setting, buy our Setting Up The Setting Workbook.

Posted on: 17th June 2021