The Importance of Developing Setting in Fiction Writing

Have you ever wondered about developing setting in your writing? Did you know that setting is an essential element in fiction writing? The setting can create mood and atmosphere, develop characters, and enhance the overall story.

In this blog, we’ll discuss settings, how it can create mood and atmosphere, and how research plays a crucial role in developing a believable setting.

Setting is the where and when a story takes place. It includes the location, time period, and cultural context. It’s important to describe the setting so thoroughly that readers can imagine and understand the story better.

Types of Setting

There are three types of setting: physical, social, and historical.

Physical Setting

Physical setting refers to the description of the environment where the story takes place. The storyteller can choose from a wide range of physical settings, each with its own unique characteristics and atmosphere.

Here are some examples of physical settings:

♦ A bustling city street with skyscrapers, crowded sidewalks, and honking cars.

♦ A dense and mysterious forest with towering trees, hidden paths, and babbling brooks.

♦ A deserted island with sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and palm trees swaying in the breeze.

♦ A spaceship hurtling through the vast expanse of space, with stars and planets passing by outside.

♦ A small town with quaint shops, cobblestone streets, and friendly locals.

Social Setting

Social setting refers to the cultural and social context, such as the norms, values, and beliefs of the community.

Here are some examples of social settings, each with its own unique dynamics and challenges.

♦ A tight-knit family with powerful traditions and values, where everyone needs to play their part.

♦ A corporate workplace with a strict rank system and dress code, where success is based on promotions and money.

♦ A small town with close-knit communities and shared histories, where everyone knows everyone else’s business.

♦ A religious community with strict rules and beliefs, where they value conformity.

♦ A prison with its own social structure and codes, where survival depends on alliances and strength.

Image by Sophia Hilmar from Pixabay.

Historical setting

Historical setting refers to the time in which the story takes place. Each story will have its own unique cultural, social, and political context.

Here are some examples of historical settings:

♦ The Roaring Twenties in the United States, with flappers, jazz music, and prohibition-era speakeasies.

♦ The French Revolution in the late 1700s, with the overthrow of the monarchy and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.

♦ The Viking Age in Scandinavia and Europe, with raids and exploration by the seafaring Vikings.

♦ The Italian Renaissance in the 1400s, with a flowering of art, literature, and scientific discovery.

♦ The Age of Exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries, with explorers like Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan travelling the world.

How to Use Setting

There are multiple ways to use setting in your stories, but here are three:

To Create Mood and Atmosphere

Setting can create a particular mood or atmosphere in the story. For example, a dark and eerie forest can create a sense of foreboding and danger, while a sunny beach can create a carefree atmosphere. The setting can mirror the protagonist’s emotions, making the story more engaging.

As a Character

In some stories, the setting can become a character in its own right. When the setting becomes a character, it can add another layer of complexity to the story, enhancing the overall experience for the reader.

♦ For example, in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, the moors become a prominent character, reflecting the turbulent and unpredictable nature of the story. 

Image by Artodidact from Pixabay.

To Develop Theme

Setting can also develop a story’s theme. 

♦ For example, if the theme of the story is isolation, the physical setting can be a remote and desolate place. If the theme is freedom, the setting can be an open and expansive landscape.

Using the setting to develop the theme can create a more cohesive and impactful story.

What to Research?

Researching the setting of the story is crucial to making it believable. It’s essential to understand the physical environment, the culture, and the historical context. Research can help writers avoid inaccurate and stereotypical portrayals of the setting and create a more authentic and engaging story.

Here are some examples of what authors should research for the setting of a novel:

Location-Specific Details

Depending on the setting, as an author, you might research the geography, climate, flora and fauna, landmarks, and other specific details that help create a sense of place.

♦ For example, if the setting is in a rain forest, you might research types of trees, weather patterns, and wildlife found in that environment

Historical Periods

If you set your novel in a historical period, you might research fashion, music, art, politics, and other cultural details relevant to that time.

♦ For example, if you set your novel in the 1950s, you might research the popular music of the time, the fashion trends, and the social issues that were prevalent.

Language and Dialects

Depending on the setting, you might research the language and dialect spoken in that region. This can help create an authentic sense of dialogue and speech patterns in the novel.

♦ For example, if you set your novel in Cusco Peru, you might need to know that they have three official languages: Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara.

Customs and Traditions

You might research the customs and traditions of the culture or society that your characters belong to.

♦ For example, for a novel set in Japan, you might research the traditional tea ceremonies, the samurai code of honour, and other cultural practices.

Technology and Infrastructure

The level of technological advancement and infrastructure in the setting can affect the way the characters interact with their environment and with each other.

♦ For example, a story set in a New York City office will be radically different from a story about climbing Everest. In NYC you can call 911 for help, but on Everest you have to rely on yourself and your hiking crew.

Architecture and Design

It’s worth checking out the architecture and design of the buildings, houses, and other structures linked to the story. This can help give the novel a sense of atmosphere.

♦ For example, if you set your story in Cape Town, South Africa, does your character live in the million dollar cliff side homes or the slums of shanty town.

Transportation

If you want your novel to be realistic, research the transport methods from that time or place. This can give the novel a lifelike feel.

♦ For example, in Manhattan people use public transportation (bus, cabs, subway etc.) while in LA most people own and drive cars.

Image by ha11ok from Pixabay

Food and Drink

What were people in that area usually eating and drinking? Don’t let your characters eat foods that didn’t exist in that time period.

♦ For example, if you set your story in Medieval England, you can’t have salt shakers on all the tables in the great hall. Only the rich or nobility had salt back then.

These are just a few of things that you might research when developing the setting of your novel. If the research is detailed, the setting can be more true-to-life and captivating.

Examples of Developing Setting 

Now that we’ve defined types of setting and ways to use setting, let’s look at how different writers use setting.

Beloved

The setting of a haunted house allows Toni Morrison to reflect on the horrors of slavery and the traumatic experiences of the characters in Beloved. The house is a physical representation of the characters’ past and their emotional scars.

The Old Man and the Sea

Ernest Hemingway, uses the setting of the sea to echo the protagonist’s isolation and struggle. The vast and unforgiving ocean creates a sense of danger and uncertainty, highlighting the challenges the old man faces.

The Great Gatsby

Using the setting of the roaring 20s allows  F. Scott Fitzgerald, (The Great Gatsby) to reflect the decadence and excess of that time. The opulent parties and lavish lifestyles of the characters highlight the societal and moral decay of the era.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, he uses the setting of the fictional town of Macondo to represent the cyclical nature of history and the characters’ inability to escape their past. The town’s physical transformation reflects the characters’ emotional and psychological journeys.

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen (ride and Prejudice), employs the English countryside to show the customs of the age, including the societal norms and expectations of the time. The idyllic landscapes and elegant manors provide a backdrop for the characters’ social interactions and romantic relationships.

In each of these examples, the setting plays an integral role in the story, reflecting the characters’ emotions, motivations, and struggles.

10 Tips for Developing Setting

There are lots of ways writers can develop setting in their fictional novels: My advice…

1. Use sensory details: Bring the setting to life by describing the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures that the characters experience.

2. Consider the time of day: The setting can change depending on the time of day. A city street may bustle with activity during the day but is empty at night.

3. Use the weather: Weather can affect the setting and the mood of the story. A thunderstorm can create tension and unease, while a sunny day can create a cheerful and carefree atmosphere.

4. Pay attention to small details: Small details can make a big difference in establishing the setting. For example, the way the sunlight filters through the trees can create a specific mood.

5. Sprinkle in history: The past can affect the setting in a historical fiction story. Research your time period and include details that help readers understand the historical context.

6. Show personalities: Make the setting show the characters’ personalities, values, and emotions. For example, a cluttered and disorganized home can reflect a character’s chaotic and unstable mindset.

7. Use setting as a source of conflict: The setting can create conflict and tension. For example, a character lost in the wilderness may struggle to survive and may face dangers such as wild animals.

8. Use setting to reveal character backstory: We can use the setting to learn about a character’s past. For example, a character returning to their childhood home can trigger memories and reveal important information about their past.

9. Incorporate symbols: the setting can be used to give extra meaning and add to the story’s theme. For example, a character standing on the edge of a cliff can symbolize the character’s internal struggle.

10. Research the setting: Research the setting to make it believable and accurate. Look at maps, photographs, and historical documents to get a sense of the environment and culture.

By following these tips, writers can develop a rich and immersive setting that adds depth and complexity to their stories.

Last Words on Developing Setting

In conclusion, setting is an essential element in fiction writing. It can create mood and atmosphere, develop characters, and enhance the overall story. By using setting effectively, writers can create a immersive and engaging experience for their readers. With the right research and attention to detail, setting can become a powerful tool in the writer’s arsenal.

Take Care

Linda

Feature image by Albrecht Fietz from Pixabay.

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