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What is the Setting of a Story?

Story Elements

Setting creates the world your story exists in. To answer the question, what is the setting of a story, we must look at the setting story elements.

Why? Because the reader must see the setting, touch it, taste it, hear it, see smell it, and most importantly feel an emotion because the location was chosen to heighten an emotion.

Fictionary’s Setting Story Elements include:

  • Location (single or multiple)
  • Time
  • Objects
  • Senses
  • Weather
  • Emotional Impact

Location and Emotional Impact

Let’s start with the most important story elements first. The location and the emotional impact of the chosen location.

When you choose a location, ask yourself:

  1. Is it important to the plot, characters, or theme? If it’s not important to any of these three, choose a different location. If it is important, you can spend more time describing the location.
  2. How can the choice of location resonate with your POV character’s emotional state? Does it
    • Increase or decrease conflict?
    • Increase or decrease tension?
    • Set the mood?
    • Highlight the character’s emotion?
    • Show characterization?
    • Slow down or speed up pacing?

If you answered no to all the questions, it’s time for a rewrite. Set the scene somewhere where you can change your answer to yes, then rewrite the scene in that location. Thinking in terms of emotional impact will help you choose the best location.



Date/Time

Date and timing of a scene are important to anchor the setting of a story. Exactly what a reader needs to understand about the timing of a scene depends on the scene. The reader may only need to know if the scene happens during the day or at night. 

However, if several years or several seconds have passed in a character’s life, the reader must understand that as well. The same is true if you are jumping around in time.


 

Objects

An object is any item or detail to which the narrator draws the reader’s attention. An object should perform a function: it could be a clue, remind a character of something, or cause conflict between characters. If you can give the object more than one function, it will add depth to your story.

The first time an important object appears in your novel, you’ll want to describe it in detail, especially if the object means something profound to a character. Alternately, keep the description minimal but memorable if you want readers to know it’s there, but you don’t want them to focus on it yet.


Senses

Sensory details keep the “stage” and characters interesting. Without them, both the setting and the characters will seem flat.

Using the POV character’s senses to describe the action will bring your reader closer to the character. However, be careful how you do this. If the character touches something sharp, don’t tell the reader it’s sharp. Show them. “The character put her hand on a glass, and blood streamed across her palm” is much more effective than “she touched the glass, and it was sharp.”

All five senses are important and should be balanced throughout the story.

Weather

The final Story Element is Weather. That’s not to say is any less important that the other Fictionary Story Elements.

To create contrast, make something evil happen on a beautiful, sunny day. 

To create tension, use the weather to make it hard for the character to get what they want. 

Check the weather is consistent. For example, it’s raining in one scene and in the same or next scene it’s sunny, but there is no description of the weather change.

Ask yourself is the weather strengthens the mood. Perhaps the weather is described, but it’s not enhancing the character or reader emotion. Weather can be used to show a contrast to a character’s mood, or it can be used to highlight a character’s mood.

Is the weather related to the plot? Try not to add weather for the sake of weather. It may be adding to the setting, but it can do so much more if it’s related to the plot.

Can the weather help with characterization?  The weather can be used to show what a character likes or dislikes, to show fears or joys, or any of the emotions a character might feel.

What is the Setting of a Story?

The setting is made up of much more that just the location. When you are reviewing the setting in each scene, check each of the Fictionary Setting Story Elements and make sure they are working hard for your story.

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