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Setting of a Story: How to Create a Story Setting that Attracts Readers

Written by

Nishoni Harvey

https://selfpublishing.com/author/nishoniharvey/

Published on

2019-06-26

Setting of a Story: How to Create a Story Setting that Attracts Readers

The setting of a story is a huge driving factor in whether or not your reader is truly engaged and connected with your book. 

Does your setting produce the story you want to tell? Does it deepen your plot and enrich your characters? Does your setting engage the reader by setting the mood and increasing the emotional connection to your characters?

All of these are important questions that you should be asking yourself as you write your own story.

Through the setting of a story that’s properly written, you can tell the story you want to tell, deepen your plot, create connection with your reader, and set the atmosphere. 

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But, getting your setting “properly written” can be a hit or miss. Too many details, and they get skimmed and skipped. But not enough details, and the characters will have no place to just “be.” 

I said that setting enriches the characters. What I didn’t tell you is that it helps to form the characters. It does the same for the plot.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to write the setting of a story and you’ll learn exactly how to create a setting of a story that’s engaging to your readers. 

Let’s get started.

setting of a story

Here’s what we’ll cover to develop the setting of a story: 

  1. What is the setting of a story? 
  2. Why is the setting of a story important? 
  3. How do you decide where the setting of a story will be? 
  4. How do you research the setting of a story? 
  5. How do you write a setting? 
  6. How do you write a fictional setting of a story?

What is the setting of a story? 

What exactly is the story setting? The setting of a story is the framework in which the scene or a story transpires. Many mistakenly believe it is only the backdrop to the story when, in fact, it includes everything that has to do with the social environment, place, and time.

Let’s go through an example to help you answer the question of what is the setting of a story, and how it relates to the experience your reader has.

Related: Writing Prompts By Genre

If I were to talk about the old Volkswagen Beetle that Sarah was sitting in as she was bouncing down a bumpy back alleyway in Manhattan, you’d know where she was.

If I were to write about the Volkswagen—musty with the strong smell of stale sweat hanging heavy in the air, the plot thickens.

If I were to show you that the sky is dark, there’s a cold drizzle outside, the wind is gusty, and that Sarah’s inner thoughts reflect that, “Even the weather knows how I feel,” we have some insight into the depressed state of the protagonist.

Show, don’t tell in your writing. Show the readers the setting of a story through powerful writing and the use of literary devices

Why is the setting of a story important? 

Yes, the setting is important because it tells the reader the time, place, and environment of a story. But it goes a lot farther than that! 

Whether you are learning how to write a nonfiction book or become an author of a fictional story, the setting of a story is crucial to that story’s development, and the reader’s experience, for a number of other reasons. 

Without the setting of a story…

  • The characters and the plot will not be properly connected.
  • The theme and events will not be tied together.
  • The story will not have as much meaning as it could.
  • You won’t be able to elicit as much of an emotional response in your reader.
  •  Readers will have a more difficult time visualizing how the story takes place.
  • There will be less understanding of the flow of the story.
  • There will be little meaning and context to the story.
  •  The events in the story won’t feel real.

How do you decide where the setting of a story will be?

There are three important points when deciding where the story’s setting when you’re learning how to write a book or novel. 

#1 – Make your story setting fit the purpose of your plot.

Your story setting should be aligned to your plot so that it all makes sense to your reader, and is realistic. 

Are you trying for a murder mystery? Do you want it to feel fast-paced, or like a slow and steady Sherlock Holmes mystery?

To accomplish the first, making the story setting be in Chicago with high crime rates, many places to hide, and a resourceful police station will accomplish the first. To accomplish the second, a rural, backwoods setting will be more appropriate. 

See how the setting of a story should make sense for the overall plot? 

#2 – Make the setting fit the story.

The setting should fit the actual story; things, events, or objects within a story’s setting should not feel out of place to the reader, based on prior knowledge of a place or time period. 

For example, does the Volkswagen on the bumpy road carry a car full of lawbreakers? They’ll probably not want to draw attention. Place them in America in an era when old Volkswagens were common.

how to write the setting of a story

#3 – Make the setting of a story fit your character.

Last but not least, the setting of a story should always be aligned with the main characters found within that story. 

For example, is your character shy and withdrawn? Have her sitting on the ledge surrounding the red brick school building writing short stories in her mom’s old notebook instead of enjoying recess with the other kids.

How do you research the setting of a story?

When researching the setting a story, there are many things to consider.

Remember: The setting is not just the backdrop or geographical details.

To research the setting of a story, use these guiding questions: 

  • What nationalities are represented in the population?
  •  How dense is the population?
  • What is the primary religion of the area?
  • What other religions are there?
  •  What old wives’ tales and superstitions are there that might shape the plot and the reactions of the main character and the population to outside influences?
  • What are the terrain and other geographical features?
  • What are the typical weather patterns for that time of year?
  • What is the climate like?
  • What is the government like?
  •  What is the history of the area?

Some helpful sources for researching the setting of a story are:

research story setting

How do you write the setting of a story?

Creating an engaging setting for your reader can be difficult. Think of the setting like a very large puzzle – it takes a lot of detailed pieces to make the big picture appear seamless. 

Through detailed research and a lot of thought, you can create a story setting that aligns for your reader by using these tips. 

#1 – Decide what mood you’re trying to establish

Mood is defined as the overall feeling the reader has when reading a story, and it is created by the author. 

What mood are you trying to establish? 

Think of it in terms of this: A bright summer morning in the middle of a large, grassy park where happy families are out casts a much different mood than a dark forest with crooked, gnarled trees and low hanging fog.

Think about how you want your readers to feel as they read your story. Then, create that mood with your writing. 

#2 – Decide which period or moment best fits the context of your story

The time period plays a huge part in developing the setting of a story. 

What kind of plot do you have? Does it best fit into medieval Europe, America’s 1960s, or in current time? Or maybe it fits better in the future? 

Look at the language you’re planning to use—the idioms, quotes, and expressions. Look at the props and the way the characters view them.

Consider how the different people in the book are treated. Are the elderly respected? Are the police viewed as an authority? Are the parents held in regard? In what regard do people hold the churches and the government?

All of these things and more have a bearing on the time period your story will fall into.

Sometimes, the best gauge of what time period your story setting should be is to consider a time you know well and have loved. If you felt an emotional connection to that time, you’ll be able to convey that to your readers, and that’s what writing is all about.

setting of a story tips

#3 – Know the atmosphere you need to portray.

As you write the setting of a story, you need to think about the atmosphere that you need to portray for the reader. 

Is the scene one with high tension? Write your story setting in one that implies an atmosphere of high tension.

For example, maybe James and Lisa are working up toward an argument. Why would Lisa be noticing soft fluffy clouds above her head, singing birds, and the warmth of the sun’s bright rays? When you read that description, you probably think about relaxation and peace – not high tense emotion. 

writing setting of a story

Now that’s a setting of a story that portrays tension! 

#4 – Remember that the setting of a story includes more than the terrain, weather, and climate of the place.

We already discussed some of the other elements that are involved in the setting of a story. Some of these are the government, religions, superstitions, and population. But how do you write them into your story?

You should know all these little details in depth, but it doesn’t mean you’ll use it all directly in your story’s setting.

Only use what’s necessary to describe the setting adequately. No more. No less. Write it in surrounded by action, and don’t forget to break it up throughout the story!

Also, make sure you’re dropping setting descriptions throughout the book.

It’s not only needed in the beginning, but everywhere you need the plot deepened and your characters enhanced.

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#5 –  Use all five senses when you’re describing the setting.

When you’re walking through a room or down the street, do you see it as two-dimensional? No. You experience every part of that walk. You use every one of your five senses.

You want your readers to experience your story through each of their senses, too. An easy way to do this is by using literary devices in your writing. 

Begin by describing what you want them to see. When you do, describe it the same way the eye travels in real life. Start with the focal point, then move across in a straight line.

Next, your main character would naturally notice what they hear. Don’t describe everything they hear, but only the relevant sounds, and only the most obvious ones.

What does he smell? Is the air dusty? Is someone cooking breakfast?

Have him touch things. He can run his hand over the smooth desk, feel the rough board, and handle the cold metal rod.

Lastly, explore his sense of taste. Your main character won’t use this sense as much, but you do want to be sure to use it. Remember, you don’t only taste when you put something in your mouth. Something can “smell so good that you can almost taste it.”

Sprinkle these details in – don’t feel that you have to describe each and every little thing; otherwise, you’ll overwhelm your reader. 

Practice writing some scenes, and it will start to come natural to you!

#6 – Don’t describe the setting of a story all at once.

You don’t want to give your readers an encyclopedia of facts. They won’t read them. They’ll skip them, or might even close your book altogether.

When you start your book with a wall of details, your readers are more likely to lay down your book to never pick it up again. Your readers will skim or skip later clumps of setting as they try to get back to the action.

Since the setting of a story is so essential to the plot and characters, it’s very important that you stretch it out enough that it will be read and enjoyed.

Instead, write the setting in as part of the action, adding in a piece here and there. 

A tip: Learn how to write dialogue in a way that engaging your reader and helps build the setting. 

Here is an example of a well-written piece.

setting of a story

#7 – Be careful not to over-describe the setting of a story.

This has a lot of the same cons as describing the setting all at once, but there are more.

Here’s why you shouldn’t over-describe the setting of a story:

  • You stifle your reader’s imagination.You must leave some details up to the imagination. You want your readers to be involved in the story. Otherwise, you’ll lose them.
  • You knock your readers out of the story. The quickest way to get a reader to desert your story is to frontload them with too many descriptions. 
  • You don’t need to include every detail. Appeal to your readers’ knowledge of the world. Tell your readers the machine sounds like a buzzing bee. You don’t need to describe the sound.

#8 – Remember that the setting of a story has a direct effect on the character and plot.

Our environment affects our mood – this is true for almost every human! So, it shouldn’t be any different for the characters in your story, since they should be life-like. 

Let’s look at some examples. 

If Lisa lives in mid-Michigan, where it’s dark and dank all winter long, she may become depressed as many people do.

If she lives in a trailer in the middle of nowhere with the frigid air seeping in through the cracks in the door and a furnace that won’t stay lit, her character will beg for our sympathies.

If she has a toddler playing on the cold floors and a deadbeat ex-boyfriend who won’t provide for his child, we have the beginning of a plot.

Do you see how the plot and characters are directly affected by the story’s setting?

How do you write a fictional setting?

You might be thinking, “That’s all good and well, but what if I want to create a setting in a science-fiction or fantasy realm?”

If you want to create the setting of a story that takes place in a world that doesn’t exist yet, creating a fictional setting is an option! There are few ways to do this. 

fictional setting of a story

#1 – Develop the setting fully before you begin writing.

Before you pick up your pen to write, be sure that your setting is fully developed! 

You don’t want to get to the end of your book, only to edit it and find you have to rewrite large portions. Fully developing the setting of a story will save you hours of work later.

Not fully developing your story from the beginning could end with it back in the writing stage after an edit!

Sit down. Answer all the questions in  the section on how to research a setting. Make notes, whether that be in a Microsoft document, Scrivener, Pinterest, Evernote, the project notebook method, using 4X6 cards, or some other method.

Think about this: J. R. R. Tolkien had his setting researched so thoroughly that he had books full of information on the world and the characters before he even began writing.

#2 – Create your world first.

You have an exciting task ahead of you: You get to create a world! And no one can tell you that you’re doing it wrong. However, world-building can be hard.

Not only is it time-consuming, but it’s difficult to form an immediate connection between your setting and your readers.

They won’t have any idea what an “ebony irbit” looks like, and your main character won’t be able to tell them that it’s “fluffy as a bunny” or “that it jumps like a grasshopper” since she’ll have no reference for such things. You’ll have to describe everything in detail.

#3 – Create your setting second.

Once a fictitious world is built, the setting of a story can be crated. 

You need to create every aspect of your story’s setting before you move onto writing your book.

For example, how many suns will your main character look up and see? How many moons?

What about the plant life? Are the plants vibrant or dull? Where do they grow? Are they populous? Are they carnivorous? Do the characters eat of the plants? How do they get the fruit and vegetables?

Are the animals simple pets or advanced creatures? Do they live in peaceful harmony, almost symbiotic, or are they at constant war with the population?

Think outside the box when it comes to creating a setting of a story for a fictional world. 

#4 – You need enough details to make the world believable.

The setting is a delicate balance. Swing too far one way or the other, and your tower of blocks could crumble.

You need more details in a fictitious setting than you do in a real setting—the reason being that your readers have no frame of reference from which to draw.

For context: People have a pretty good idea what the Manhattan skyline looks like, but you’ll have to describe the horizon of your world looks like in detail.

You indeed want us to use our imagination, but it’s your job to guide it.

We need to know the color of the sky if it’s anything other than blue. We need to know about the acid rain that comes every night and cleanses the land of the evil creatures that dare prowl in the dark.

Tell us about the magician’s lair that Jabesh fell into while running through the woods. Describe the water running down the cold walls and how he felt a cold chill run down his spine as he peered into the darkness leading toward a single burning torch.

Give us details. Use specific words. Tell us what we need to know, but don’t pile it on. And remember, don’t give it to us all at once!

#5 – Draw a map.

Draw a map of your world.

What’s the terrain in the whole country like? Draw it in.

Figure out the important places in your story. What is the capital city of Neiphour? What is the main throughway? Where is Jabesh traveling to? What little towns might he stop at along the way? Even include his favorite hideaway and his fishing hole. Include everything of importance.

Map out the distance between places. This way you won’t have Jabesh taking a two day trip to the city of Lit one day and a half-day trip the following week.

Not only will drawing a map of your world help you create the story’s setting, but it will also help both you and the reader envision little nuances to make it more realistic.

Practice writing the setting of a story today! 

You’ve heard several tips and received a lot of information on how to write the setting of a story today. I’ve told you how to create a reader-engaging setting. Now, it’s up to you.

It’s time to practice! If you need some inspiration to guide you, use these creative writing prompts to help think of things to write about

Go to your desk, pull out your pen and paper, and begin mind mapping your setting! Write the place of your setting in the middle of the paper and circle it.

Now, set a timer for ten minutes. If that doesn’t end up being enough time, work longer.

Write everything you can think of about that setting. You’ll be surprised at how much you know! If your setting is fictitious, all the better. 

Do you have an idea for a setting? We’d love to hear it!

Nishoni Harvey

Nishoni Harvey has been writing since she was a little tyke. She has a file full of stories that she wrote as a first and second grader and beyond, which she hopes to turn into children's books. As of today, she has authored one novella and one novel. She has written chapters in two other books and published several articles, blogs, and poems. She has written six non-fiction books as a ghostwriter.
Nishoni Harvey