The Setting

by Gloria
(Cleveland,Ohio USA)

Question: How do you describe the setting? What is important and how deep should the writer go. It's about the characters, the setting is just the place where the action happens. I feel in my story/play the setting is as important as the characters. If you have commented on this before where could I find it, I have been looking on your wonderful and informative site.

Thank You,

Answer: Setting certainly matters, and there are a number of things setting can do for a story such as...

* Stimulate the imagination. In some genres, exploring an exotic location is half the fun. I'm thinking of fantasy, science fiction, historicals, and stories set in exotic parts of the world.

* Create a sense of familiarity. Other stories depend on a setting that the reader feels is just like their world. I'm thinking her of contemporary stories set either in big cities or generic small towns. Also young adult books set in high schools.

* Create an emotional atmosphere. Finding a dead body in a zen garden creates a very surreal atmosphere, whereas finding a dead body in an English country mansion on a stormy night is a cliche.

* Contribute to the thematic message. Certain places lend themselves to certain types of thematic explorations. On the other hand, exploring a theme in an atypical environment can make for an interesting story twist.

* Place limits on the action. Places have rules of behaviour that affect what your characters can do. A break-up that happens in a movie theatre will be different than a break-up at a party or a wedding or in a private home because the rules are different in each place. Some stories take place entirely within an isolated environment with its own set of rules (prison dramas, courtroom dramas, murder mysteries, etc.)

Depending on your genre, you may need to do a combination of research and worldbuilding to create the setting for your story. But as with characters, the more you know about your story world the easier it is for you to find the telling details that make it seem authentic to the reader. (Of course, some fantasy writers take this a little too far, spending years designing their story world and never writing the story.)

Keep in mind that the things one character (or one narrator) will notice about the setting will be different than what another will notice. The spin, the interpretation, the attitude will be different. So when you're describing your setting, the subjective perspective is important.

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