Why Writers Should Create A Setting Like A Character

Why Writers Should Create A Setting Like A Character (& How To Do It)

Do you want to create memorable settings? In this post we look at why writers should create a setting like a character and how to do it.

Many authors say that their setting becomes a character in the stories they write. Some even start with the setting and then add the characters.

Ian Rankin who created Detective Inspector John Rebus has made Edinburgh a character in the Rebus series. There are even Rebus Tours of the city for fans. He says: ‘I started writing novels while an undergraduate student, in an attempt to make sense of the city of Edinburgh, using a detective as my protagonist. Each book hopefully adds another piece to the jigsaw that is modern Scotland, asking questions about the nation’s politics, economy, psyche and history… and perhaps pointing towards its possible future.’

Why Writers Should Create A Setting Like A Character

If you can create a setting that comes alive, you will create a mood for the books you write. People will remember how they felt about the book through the setting.

But how do you create a setting like a character?

Consider the following:

  1. Aesthetics of a setting = Appearance of a character. The way the setting looks is the equivalent of the way a character looks. Take time to describe your setting using all five senses, distinctive landmarks, and quirky details. Include the colours and how the setting changes in the seasons and in different types of weather.
  2. History of a setting = Backstory of a character. Settings are a product of everything that has happened in them. Take time to look at the history of the place you are using if it’s real. If it’s made-up, take time to create its history. When was it established? Who founded the city or town? What important incidents happened there and how did they affect the setting? How has it changed over time? Is it a wealthy or poor area? How has time treated the setting? What secrets is the setting hiding?
  3. Problems in a setting = Conflicts in a character. Use the geography, era, culture, and weather to create problems in settings. These create direct and indirect conflict for your characters. For example, if you need airlift a character to safety, a mountainous area will create conflict.
  4. Future of a setting = Character development, motivations, story goals. Use the setting to show how an area’s development and future plans influence people. The plans residents have for an area affect everything. They motivate the economy, potential investments or disinvestments, and the movement of people.

Read: 12 Crucial Things To Remember About Setting In Storytelling


Exercise 1: Try to imagine your setting as a famous fictional character. List the traits of that character, the emotions they evoke, and the feeling or mood that they create.

Exercise 2: Show a setting as two people walk though it. Use the five senses, dialogue, and the internal thoughts of the viewpoint character.

Exercise 3: List three settings that you remember from books you’ve read. Jot down the aesthetics, the history, problems, and the future plans for the place found in each setting.

Read: 5 Essential Exercises For Writing About Setting

Questionnaire – Create A Setting Like A Character

Create a questionnaire to flesh out your setting as if it were a character – or use this one.

  1. Setting name:
  2. Surrounding areas:
  3. Previous names (if any):
  4. Founding date:
  5. Astrology sign (for fun):
  6. Street names:
  7. Founders:
  8. Major influences:
  9. Historical traumas, events:
  10. Strengths:
  11. Vulnerabilities:
  12. Best physical trait:
  13. Worst physical trait:
  14. Natural enemies:
  15. Recreation spots:
  16. Hobbies:
  17. Hangouts:
  18. Shops:
  19. Vacation spots:
  20. Political affiliation:
  21. Religious affiliation:
  22. Income levels:
  23. People’s attitudes:
  24. Dominant personality types:
  25. Sense of humour – dry, weird, earthy:
  26. Taste in clothes:
  27. Food:
  28. Education levels:
  29. Occupations:
  30. Ambitions, plans for the future:

The Last Word

If you want to create a memorable mood for your book, one way to do it is by taking time to create a setting like a character.

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. The Ultimate Memoirist’s Checklist
  2. 40 Ways To Write About Empathy
  3. How To Choose Your Genre
  4. What Is An Analogy & How Do I Write One?
  5. 5 Ways To Write About Real People In Memoirs
  6. 10 Tips For Retelling A Classic Tale
  7. Characterisation Exercise: Then & Now

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

Posted on: 11th May 2021