Building Setting: An Introduction to Crafting Scenery



Hello all! With the start of March it's time to kick-start a brand new writing series. As I begin to consider draft 5 of my novel Star-Crossed, I've been taking the time to re-examine the settings I've chosen and evaluate the effectiveness of them. I started thinking that this is a good place to continue our writing journey together. This month I'll be covering a variety of different topics under the theme of *drumroll please* setting! If you've been following along, you'll know that in January I covered how to build your characters from scratch, how to make them realistic, and provided you with resources and worksheets to pull it off. Picking up where we left off, it's now time to take those characters and build them the perfect backdrop. Without further preamble, let's get to it, shall we?


What is setting?


The definition of setting in the dictionary is "the place or type of surroundings where something is positioned or where an event takes place. It is the place and time at which a play, novel, or film is represented as happening". It includes elements such as social status, weather, historical period, details of immediate surroundings, time of day, season, and descriptive details about said surroundings. It can be a real place, a fictitious world, or something in-between. It can be as specific as Westminster Abbey, London, 1875 or as broad as a boat in the middle of the ocean. There can be many settings within your story or just one. The options are endless!


Why is it important?


You cannot tell a story without setting. It doesn't matter if you're telling a joke, recalling something that happened to your coworker, reading a book or watching a movie, or writing a poem. Where there's a story to be told, it has to take place somewhere. After all, we don't just walk around in blank space.




What are the types?


Backdrop setting: Used when the location of a setting does not directly contribute to the story. Here a vague setting without a lot of detail can be used because the story can happen anywhere.


Example: The story of Winnie-the-Poo by A.A. Milne


Integral setting: Used when the time and location influences the character, theme, and action of the story. This type of setting controls the narrative and you cannot have the story take place anywhere else but here.


Example: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White


What are some examples of setting in literature?


While we'll be further exploring what it takes to create a solid background for your story this month, here are three examples from masters of writing.



In the tiny prologue of Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, he establishes several details in a single sentence. He names the city (Verona, Italy) where the events take place, and tells us that there are two houses involved (The Montagues and The Capulets). Social status is established by saying that both houses are "alike in dignity", meaning that Romeo and Juliet both grew up in homes of equal wealth and social standing. Most importantly, he sets the tone of events by telling us from the start that there is a feud between the two houses where blood has been shed and hatred abounds.



Hemingway uses his trademark short sentence structure and tactful word choice to present us with the setting in Hills Like White Elephants. Here he only uses one setting- the train station stop between Barcelona and Madrid. He keeps his characters ambiguious by not giving them names beyond The American and the girl, yet establishes the heirarchy of the man being above the woman when it comes to power. The tension between the pair is reinforced by the scenery itself. The lack of shade, the sweltering heat, and the white landscape all mimick the heated, bleak conversation.




George Orwell's Animal Farm takes place on a humble English farm. The location is vague on purpose. A metaphor for communist Russia and it's leaders, the animals decide to stage a coup against the humans. It's only fitting that Orwell's first act of setting is to establish the oppressive and neglegent nature of it's human inhabitants. He tells us that Mr. Jones is drunk, sloppy, and doesn't properly care for the animals. He shows his violent tendencies through his lurching across the yard and kicking off his boots. He shows Mrs. Jones's complete lack of caring by her being abed snoring.


Setting is the second-most important part of story-building. It gives your characters depth, resources, challenges, and allows them to react and make choices that help further their story's narrative. Moving forward you'll learn how to build the setting that your story needs, how to intentionally fine-tune the details, and will receive tons of examples and resources to help you further your writing odyssey. SUBSCRIBE today to stay updated with this series- never miss an opportunity to make your book better.


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