Does the setting contribute to the story? If it does, how does the setting contribute to the story?
Setting is one of the most significant elements in literature and it advances the plot.
The setting of a story is important for both the writer and the reader. The setting informs the reader of the environment, place, and time within which the story takes place.
It also contributes to the story’s mood and character development.
However, writing a good setting is harder than it seems; it’s a skill that you have to constantly develop.
So, apart from outlining how important the setting is to the story, I’m going to share tips on researching and writing the setting of a story.
Let’s get started.
The Definition of Setting in Literature
A setting is where and when a story takes place. The setting includes the location, time, and other features in the story.
Place is the geographical location where all the action takes place. When we talk about place, we include inside or outside, block or neighborhood, rural or urban, city, country, solar system, galaxy, or universe.
No matter the size, the question is still where does the story take place?
On the other hand, the period in which the story takes place is referred to as time. This element answers the ‘when’ questions, such as what time of day did the action happen? What was the time on the clock? What season did the story take place? What year was it? In what historical period?
Apart from adding depth and meaning to your stories, the setting also describes the mood or tone of the story.
But setting doesn’t just add depth and meaning to your stories; it also gives them shape.
A writer with a strong sense of place can make her writing more evocative and memorable by creating settings that feel real and true to life. And readers who feel connected to those settings and characters will want to come back for more.
The setting of your novel should reflect your character’s life experiences, culture, and beliefs.
In addition to providing a sense of continuity between scenes, the setting provides the backdrop for your story.
It also influences your plot, as well as the emotions and reactions of the characters. By understanding where your characters live and what they believe, you can create conflict and suspense when necessary.
What is Plot?
A plot of a story is any sequence of main events in a novel, film, play, or similar work of fiction. The plot starts with the exposition, where the main characters/protagonists and setting are introduced. It is also a stage where we know that the main character (or characters) wants something badly enough to risk everything for it, and that is connected to the story’s primary conflict or tension.
The main character then goes through some sort of obstacle—which could include a conflict between two characters—until he finally gets what he wants.
This process repeats itself throughout the entire story until the end, when the main character either succeeds or fails at achieving his goal.
What is a Story?
A story is a chain of events that ends with a climax and a resolution. The main character has an experience that changes them and causes them to change the world around them.
Stories are told from characters’ perspectives rather than just describing actions. Stories create empathy for characters and draw us into their worlds.
They also help us understand what we don’t know about ourselves and others by showing us how they behave in certain situations.
How Does the Setting Contribute to the Story?
With the setting, we can show who the characters are and where they live. This helps us understand their personality traits.
It also gives us more context about the story, such as how they got there or why they have this particular goal.
These are some of the ways that the setting contributes to the story:
Can Be Used to Create Tension and increase Suspense
A dark, foreboding setting makes for great suspense—think The Shining and Psycho. If the setting doesn’t naturally lend itself to creating tension and increasing suspense (for example, if it’s too bright, or not foreboding enough), then we can also add elements like sound design or lighting to achieve this effect.
For example, a dimly lit room might feel more ominous than one where everything is brightly lit, depending on the mood you want to set.
The Setting gives Depth to the characters
The setting provides important clues about who the characters are, what they want, and where they come from.
Sometimes this will be obvious, but often it will not be—the setting creates layers of complexity.
When we understand the environment and the period in which the story takes place, we understand why the protagonist wants what he/she wants, and it helps us connect emotionally with the character, if only through empathy.
Helps the Tone of the Story
The setting is important because it provides the reader with clues that will enable them to understand what has happened at certain points in the story.
For example, if you were writing about a murder mystery, then you might include details like where the body was found, who discovered it, etc., which would add tension to the story.
On the flip side, if you were writing a romance novel, you could focus on the setting by describing the room and the characters’ interactions. In this way, the setting can contribute to the tone of the story.
Things to Consider When Coming up with the Setting of a Story
The first thing you have to do is think about what kind of story you want to tell. What is it about? Who are you writing it for?
Are you going to write something funny? Something serious? Something romantic?
The answers to all these questions will determine the setting of the story. You can’t have a romantic story happen in an abandoned mansion full of decaying corpses.
Well… you can, but this doesn’t sound like the kind of book that typical #CoHo lovers are going to drool over, does it?
The setting has to fit the following:
1. The Story
You’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t have a setting that fits the story or a story that fits with the setting.
The setting is in two forms: backdrop (nonspecific/generic setting) and integral setting (a particular location and time significant to the story).
So, you have to determine what kind of setting your story will need. For example, when the story is very character-driven, it is ideal to use backdrop settings.
2. The Plot
The setting should be relevant to the plot; it has to fit the purpose of your plot. If the plot doesn’t fit the story’s setting, it won’t make a lot of sense and it’ll seem unrealistic.
Plot and setting answer three of the ‘5 W’s’ of story. Out of “who”, “what”, “why”, “where”, and “when”, the plot answers “why”, and the setting answers “where” and “when”.
For example, for YA books, these locations would work: schools, libraries, and classrooms; carnivals, circuses, and other festivals; castles; dark forests and gardens; rehabs; small weird towns; etc.
3. The Characters
You must come up with a setting that fits the main characters found within that story.
For example, if you want to write about a character who lives in a country town, then it would be best to choose a small town as the setting (unless they’ve moved to a different place).
And for a nerd or introvert, you can get them in settings that give them solitude with little or no distractions, i.e., an old library where they can be alone and read and/or write.
Tips on Researching the Setting of a Story
There are several ways to research a location.
One of the easiest ways is to visit the place in person. If you have the chance, go there and see what it looks like.
Another option is to watch videos on YouTube. YouTube seems to have everything on tape nowadays, and since people are constantly searching for views, they are willing to go to the furthest corners of the earth just so they can make a ten-minute video.
Some websites allow you to view satellite imagery of places around the world, such as Google Earth.
Google Earth is a great tool that allows you to explore the area by showing you a 3D image based primarily on satellite imagery.
You can also check out the local newspaper archives and libraries. These resources will provide you with first-hand accounts of the history of the area.
7 Famous Settings in Literature and Film
Middle Earth—The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Tolkien’s fantasy world has become a cultural phenomenon, spawning books, movies, video games, and theme parks around the globe.
Middle-earth is the central continent of the Earth, an incredibly imagined and mythological history of the Earth.
This is the setting for Tolkien’s famous stories, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and it has places such as Mordor, the Shire, and Rivendell.
One of the famous places in the DC Universe is Gotham City, a fictional city in the Batman comics.
This is the place where the comic book character, Bruce Wayne, comes from. The place of his birth and where he has lived almost all his life.
Batman’s hometown, aka “City of Crime”, has a dark and dangerous atmosphere and a crime rate that only Bruce Wayne can bring down.
Hogwarts—Harry Potter series
You know, when I was a little kid, I wanted to go to Hogwarts.
Who wouldn’t want to go to one of the most famous boarding schools? The world’s best School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was founded in the 10th century by Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Helga Hufflepuff, and Rowena Ravenclaw.
It is owned by the Ministry of Magic and trains children with magical abilities. The subjects taught include Potions, Charms, Transfiguration, Herbology, Astronomy, Defence Against the Dark Arts, History of Magic, Muggle Studies, Care of Magical Creatures, Divination, Study of Ancient Runes, Alchemy, Ghoul Studies, Flying, Xylomancy, Music, and Arithmancy.
221B Baker Street—Sherlock Holmes
You might not know the place, but there’s a high chance you know the detective who resides at 221B Baker Street.
Sherlock is one of the most famous—if not the most famous detective—detectives in literature;
He and his sidekick deuteragonist (Dr. John H. Watson) have solved a lot of mysteries in 221B Baker Street.
Ancient Greece is one of the most famous settings in Hollywood. Films like Troy (2004), Ulysses (1954), Spartacus (1960), and 300 (2006) were all set in ancient Greece.
The architecture, fashion, and politics are unmatched and make for a great movie.
World War I & II and the Vietnam War
These three wars are probably the most significant historical events of modern history.
There are millions of stories writers can choose from and most writers have; there have been action movies set in these wars.
The writers haven’t only focused on the action, but they have also shown the emotional, social, and financial impacts of the three wars.
Some of the famous movies set in these periods include We Were Soldiers (2002), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Full Metal Jacket (1987), The Dirty Dozen, 1917 (2019), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Hacksaw Ridge (2016), and Schindler’s List (1993).
Have I answered the “How does the setting contribute to the story” question?
A well-crafted setting feeds the reader’s imagination. It allows your reader to dwell on the environment and context of the story, ultimately helping you to immerse them in the real or fictional world the author wants to explore.
In works of both fiction and non-fiction, the setting can play just as pivotal a role in the story arc and plot development as the characters and events.
However, writing a good setting is a skill, and just like any skill, you can hone it.