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Setting Sets Your Stories Apart (Excerpt #2)—Launch Week Festivities*

March 14, 2016 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified March 13, 2016

An excerpt from The Magic of Fictionfront-cover-image-only-2

from Chapter 10, “Showcasing the Setting”

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Setting details set your story apart, apart from every other story (including your own), apart from movies, apart from real locations. They establish place and time and can influence mood. Setting details can very quickly—even from page 1—set up reader expectations and influence reader emotions.

Setting showcases your characters, both their strengths and weaknesses. Setting can reveal character traits as well as shape characters.

A love story or mystery can take place anywhere and at any time. Your love story is different because it’s set in Gallipoli just before the Crimean War. Or in pre-Civil War New Orleans. Or on Palzar, the fourth moon of Rak’ar, in the year 2602.

Your mystery is unique because it takes place in Edwardian London or on a space station that’s the last human outpost at the edge of a wormhole.

And the particulars of those places and times should influence, saturate, and even drive your story.

Place, time, and cultural events should make stories different. They should influence characters. A setting should be so tied to a story that to change the setting would be to change the story.

And as you edit, you may need to do exactly that—change your setting. Your first choice of setting may not be the best one for your story. If you switched the year—to just before or during or just after a major event or upheaval—would you have a stronger story? Would you give protagonist and antagonist more ammunition?

What of the era in general? Have you used the one most beneficial to your fiction? Can enough happen in that time period? Do the characters of that age or era hold the proper opinions, the mindset, for what you need from them? Are they able to do what you need them to do? Do they have the knowledge they would need for the circumstances you write them into?

What of seasons or weather? Have you chosen the best for your needs? What would happen if you started the story three months earlier or six months later? Could you work in more challenges for the characters if the conditions were cold and snowy? Hot and humid? If it was the rainy season? The dry season? Hurricane season?

If you’ve featured holidays in your book, could you have benefited from a more emotion-laden one if story events began earlier or later in the year?

What of the political climate? How are characters affected by local, national, or world events? Do national or international events speed up your fictional timelines and deadlines? Have you taken advantage of your locale and its singular elements?

Your broad setting may not change much—for example, every scene in your story may take place in a small Florida city. But characters move from one room to another, one building to another, from downtown to the beach. And the smaller settings should fit the larger setting as well as fit the events that take place within them.

The larger settings can also change, of course. The setting itself may be changed by story events, by something such as war or large-scale weather events. Or characters may leave one setting and enter another. Whatever the reason for changes in setting, make sure they don’t pass unnoticed, not if characters should notice the change. On the other hand, don’t overplay the change if it’s not a big deal.

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Read more about setting in The Magic of Fiction.

Join us all week—March 13 through March 17—for more excerpts and other Launch Week festivities to celebrate The Magic of Fiction.

* Comments in this article are eligible for the Prize Pack Giveaway. The single prize winner will be chosen randomly from comments made on eligible Launch Week articles. (#4)

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9 Responses to “Setting Sets Your Stories Apart (Excerpt #2)—Launch Week Festivities*”

  1. This excerpt on ‘Setting Sets Your Stories Apart’ is a timely reminder of the need to set details to draw the reader in and that story parts are interdependent and inevitably changing one thing affects others.

  2. Thank you for this information. Setting must be integral to the plot. I’ve shared this on social media.

  3. Rachel says:

    I have found that readers want to know and understand what the setting is, so don’t leave them in the dark unless you have to!

  4. Janet says:

    It sounds like setting is “the stage” of the story. And, this article mentions many interesting & crucial details to consider.

  5. Kat says:

    I look forward to reading this chapter in particular. Setting gets brushed over all too often and leaves readers feeling a little lost. Sometimes it’s not even clear you’re lost until someone else points it out, you just vaguely know there’s something missing.

  6. Joanne says:

    Wow. Fantastic to hear someone else think so much about, in particular, the weather. I noticed in my WIP so much happens in autumn or winter. I thought thatvwas just because I like those months. But then I realised that the juxtaposition with another character occurs in summer. One shows a ‘dark path’, the other shows a dark character stifling in the light and heat. Maybe cliched, but it happened subconsciously. Very much looking forward to reading this chapter to gain greater insights.

  7. Summer Ross says:

    Great intro to settings and what they can do for a reader and the story. One thing I like to keep in mind and tell my authors is setting is also a part of the character, they should see the world through their eyes not yours. They have an opinion about that ugly blue sofa their momma left them with when she passed away, but don’t have the heart to get rid of it because it’s the last thing she ever gave the character.

    These tiny details even if it’s only one or two added to the actual description of the setting really adds to deepening the character.

    • Kat says:

      Yes! Giving more detail about something like a blue sofa can be so subjective (as in ugly) can really add to who the character is. Often it’s subtle. I love it when authors sprinkle such elements throughout their works (be subtle!). From the posts I’ve read of yours, Summer, you’ve a really good handle on some of the deeper and subtle aspects of writing. It’s crucial to writing a piece that draws the reader in. 😀

  8. Elizabeth says:

    “Setting” is so important. I’ve spent more time researching about the setting and distance between two points to make characters met that when I lost my files (all my edit files to Scrivener) it was a great loss and even though I had the originals non-edited versions with Microsoft, I dind’t have the research about setting. Even though we don’t use much, a nuance, a detail here and there, at least for me, it takes a great deal of research to get one sentence that translates the mood, the weather, the political atmosphere, the looks etc. of a place. So, we don’t hear much about setting but there are authors that use ‘setting’ as a character (think of Hotel; Airport etc.).
    Great post!

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