Improve Your Novel’s Setting With Story Editing

I once read a book where I didn’t skim any of the setting descriptions. Afterward, I wondered why. I re-read the story from a structural editing point of view.

I highlighted every sentence that described the setting. What I realized was the author only described things or places that were relevant to the plot.

Most writers know the setting creates the story world. But in the context of novel structure, it can do so much more for you.

Consider the following for each scene when working on setting:

  1. Location
  2. Date&Time
  3. Weather
  4. Objects
  5. Senses


Once you’ve determined the location for each scene, ask yourself if the location is the best place for emotional impact. You should ask this for the date & time of the scene and for the weather.

This one little question helps you:

  • increase or decrease conflict
  • increase or decrease tension
  • set the mood
  • show characterization

That’s a lot for a setting to do for you, but thinking about setting in terms of emotional impact will wake up your creativity.

Suppose you have a character who is afraid of the dark. Imagine the character is about to have a confrontation with an employee. If the character feels confident being in his/her own office and you want the character to be in a position of strength, then use the office as a setting.

If you want the character to feel vulnerable during the confrontation, try locating him/her outside, at night, in an isolated parking lot. And make it very dark. The streetlight is broken. There is no moon. Maybe it’s windy, so a cry for help won’t be heard.

Do you see the difference? The setting can help you bring out emotion in the scene by showing conflict, tension, mood, and characterization. You decide what emotion you want the reader to feel, then decide how the setting can help bring forward that emotion.

If you think the location is not the best place for emotional impact, it’s time for a rewrite. Find a location where you can elicit strong emotions, then rewrite the scene in that location. The same goes for Date & Time, and Weather.



When you are structural editing, keeping track of objects in a scene is important. An object should perform a function.  They could be a clue, remind a character of good or bad times, or cause conflict between characters. They may be included to provide richness to a location, but if you can give it a double purpose, it will add depth to your story.

The first time an object appears in your novel, you’ll want to describe it. You may want a detailed description if the object means something to a character, or you may want to keep it simple if you want the reader to know it’s there, but you don’t want them to focus on it yet.

If you have an object that plays a key role in the story, then mention it early. You’ll want to know which characters know about the object, when they find out about it, and if you have the object in key scenes.

Fictionary will help you keep track of objects and other elements that are relevant to the object, such as location or characters in the scene. You can quickly check if the objects are in key scenes.



All characters have senses, so use them to keep the stage interesting.

All 5 senses are important. You’ll want to keep track that you don’t overuse one, under use another, and that you use more than one. This will make your character feel real.

This is only the beginning of how setting used properly within the structure of your novel can help you rewrite a novel that readers will love.



How will Fictionary help with settings?

Fictionary gave me some useful insight into how I’m using settings in my current work-in-progress EVOLUTION.


Using Fictionary, I evaluated each scene on the Evaluate Your Scenes page. In the Key Element Per Scene report, I selected the Location, Date & Time, and Weather, so I could see all three together.

Weather Structural Editing

For Location, I’ve used Jaz’s home as the location in 4 of 6 scenes.I’m happy with the scenes that take place on the ice or at the dog school. I’ll go back and review if the other 4 scenes all have to be in Jaz’s home.

The Date & Time are fine. In every scene, the reader knows the time of day and also the timing of the scene in relation to the previous scene.

The first two scenes happen outside, and I mentioned the Weather in the scene. The scenes take place in the early morning, it’s dark outside, the weather is stormy, and Jaz is on a lake that is starting to unfreeze.

Jaz being alone in the early hours with a storm outside sets the mood. Tension rises as Jaz runs onto unstable ice. Jaz has panic attacks, so being alone at the front of the dog class provides characterization.

This gives me a good idea how the first 3 elements are helping my story and where I need to do some more work.


Are the objects in EVOLUTION working for me? In the Key Element Per Scene report, I chose only the Scene Name and Objects.

Objects Structural Editing

Scene 1: I’ve listed a clock and bandit’s bed. The clock is a clue in the investigation. The dog’s bed illustrates Jaz’s emotional state, showing how she feels about losing her dog.

Scenes 2 & 3: I haven’t listed any objects. This is telling me the scenes might be hard for the reader to visualize and I should go back and review the scenes, thinking about whether there are objects that I could use to set the mood etc.  These scenes are early on in the novel, so I need to give the reader a good picture of where they are.

Scene 4: I only list a leash, but the leash is showing Jaz’s skill in dog training.

Scene 5: The flowers symbolize friendship and the wine is a clue to Jaz’s mental state.

Scene 6: The plant symbolizes two women who aren’t friends. Jaz has killed every plant she ever owned. A true friend would know that and not bring a plant as a present.

You can see the objects are working for the story, but I need to do a bit more work.



Am I using the senses to get the most out of them? In the Key Element Per Scene report, I chose only the Scene Name and the 5 senses.

Setting Structural Editing

Scene 1: All the senses have a value.

Scene 2: I don’t use smell or taste.

Scene 3: This is getting a little vague. I don’t use any of the senses. You’ll have noticed I don’t have an object in the scene either. I’ll go back and edit the scene to make better use of the senses.

Scene 4, 5 and 6: These are okay, as I use some of the senses.

I also see a trend that I’m under utilizing taste. Perhaps I should improve this, too.


How else can Fictionary help with structural editing?

There is also a report for all the Setting Elements Per Scene if you want to see all of the setting elements in one place.

Fictionary will guide you through your manuscript, illustrating weak areas in plot, character, or setting that will lead you to make changes to your novel. With a guided approach, you’ll know which areas of your manuscript you’ve addressed and which you haven’t. This will speed up your structural editing process by enabling you to focus only on areas that need revision.

Fictionary will save you money on future structural editing. If an editor works on your novel before you’ve finished addressing structural issues, the editor will spend time on changes you could have already made. By doing this work yourself, you’ll learn how to write better fiction and you’ll receive higher quality comments from an editor.

Turn Your First Draft Into A Story Readers Love

Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and turn your draft into a story readers love?



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