Happy Thursday everyone! This month we've been learning about SETTING as the theme for our writing series. So far we've covered an introduction to crafting scenery, how to analyze setting in literature, and the 12 elements of setting. Whether you're looking to become a novelist, poet, or maybe you simply like to dabble in short stories or screenplays, setting plays an important role in your work. It sets the mood and atmosphere, tells us where a story takes place, and helps establish a clear mental image with context clues that help us better understand a protagonist and their plight. There are 2 types of setting that you should be familiar with: integral and backdrop. We'll be looking closely at what makes each type important and identifying examples of each in this post.
What are the differences between the two types of settings?
Backdrop Setting: Have you ever read a story and noticed that the setting seems a bit vague? Try as you might you couldn't figure out where exactly it takes place or what time-frame it's in. That's because it's most likely a backdrop setting. These settings aren't meant to be defined because ultimately, they don't add anything to the story specifically. They could easily take place somewhere else and it wouldn't affect the story at all. Oftentimes these types of stories are used when a message or lesson is being conveyed because they don't need extra symbolism to get their point across.
Integral Setting: These are the settings that leave us without any questions. They are specific, detailed, and clearly identifiable. They often bring depth and deeper meaning to characters and events. The story wouldn't be the same if it was told without this particular setting- time and place is crucial. This type of background is more common in literature, as most stories need a certain setting or time period in order to have the same effect.
When to use a each type:
Both types are useful, but you have to make sure that you pick the right one for your specific piece. Keep in mind what your overall intention is for your story, as this will determine what is needed.
Now that we've figured out when to use each type, let's break down some examples.
Example 1: Animal Farm by George Orwell
This story takes place within a small independent farm somewhere in the English countryside. It is first called the Manor Farm due to it's former ties with aristocracy, but later becomes known as the Animal Farm once the animals take over.
As a euphemism for the Russian Revolution, the animals on the farm are highly symbolic. The story overall is a critique of these historic events and so the action taking place is what is rightfully in the forefront. For this reason, the location of the farm doesn't matter. It could be happening anywhere else in the world, on any other random farm and the story would remain exactly the same.
Example 2: Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
The Nancy Drew Series is all about the teenage girl sleuth. Her mystery solving abilities, quick-thinking, and upbeat attitude carry her from case to case (or book to book rather). Here the settings don't matter because Nancy is the one carrying the story. It is all about her- her thoughts, her feelings, her relationships, and how she solves each individual mystery. There's no importance behind the settings except for providing the essentials needed for establishing the mysteries.
Example 3: Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
Winnie-the-Pooh takes place in "The Hundred Acre Woods", a fictional woodland where Christopher Robin plays with his imaginary friends. Since this is an imaginary place to begin with, the story could take place anywhere Christopher Robin chooses, as adventures can be had anywhere. It could be another forest, the beach, outer-space, the options are endless, but for a little boy who loves the outdoors, and considering that Pooh is a bear, the forest just makes logical sense. A lot of children's books have backdrop settings for this reason.
Example 1: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights has three settings. The Moors, Wuthering Heights, and Thrushcross Grange. Each of these settings serves to enhance the dark and tumultuous relationship that Catherine and Heathcliff share. The Moors symbolize wilderness and freedom. They allow people to go where they please and nobody owns them. Wuthering Heights depicts the stormy, dark mood of the house, which is almost as cruel and passionate as the lovers themselves. Thrushcross Grange in comparison is the complete opposite, being calm in weather, dull, and rather boring. All of these symbolic elements work in tangent to emphasize how powerful and overwhelming the feelings of love and hate can become versus the calm of never feeling them at all.
Example 2: The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The setting of the ocean and the waves carry throughout The Awakening for Edna. To her it symbolizes freedom and escape, something she desperately wants. She can only reach out to it once she finds peace within herself to be who she wants to be, though it beckons her like a siren's song. The repetitive nature of this setting shows us the emotional state of Edna, the exploration of her feelings and sexuality, and ultimately provides her with a release from her oppressive life. To take away the ocean or to change the location would have an adverse effect on the story itself, as it plays such a starring role that it is almost a character itself.
Example 3: Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The inhospitable and deserted terrain that the boys crash-land on has a direct correlation with their moods, well-being, and survival. When similar wilderness situations could have been used, the island was the perfect choice to symbolize the struggle between civilization vs. savagery. It is an isolated environment with limited resources and almost no chance of contact or interference from the outside world. As the boys destroy the natural habitat, nature seems to fight back by influencing the boys emotions and actions. If the environment was changed, the story would change as well. The challenges presented would be different and the decisions the characters would have to make to survive would undoubtedly create an entirely different story.
No matter which setting you choose, both have pros and cons. Backdrop setting is best for children's stories, dramas, action-based plotlines, or stories driven by a character's thoughts and feelings. Integral setting on the other hand is great for stories that need a lot of symbolism, are a metaphor for another situation, or those that simply need an outside element to further sway or represent their characters.