Writing Tip #33: What Is Your Story's Setting?


Source: Mokup on Pixabay, edited with GIMP

Hello friends of The Ink Well!

In this installment of our writing tips, we’re going to look at story settings. Your "setting" is the place and time of your story. And it’s important, even in very short stories, to incorporate some elements that help the reader to feel situated in that place and time.

The setting provides the context for the story’s events. The sights, smells, sounds and other details of your story help to make your setting feel real and believable.

What Happens When the Setting Is Weak?

Do you ever read a story and feel that something fundamental is missing? It could be a number of things, because writing a story is a bit of a delicate balancing act in which the author must provide a compelling opening, and then add all the critical ingredients of story line and conflict, character development, a story arc and resolution, all in a well-defined setting. Oh, and don’t forget that magical touch that the writer must bring to the story, which we call “writing style” or “writing voice.”

If any of those elements are missing or poorly tended to, you might feel disengaged from the story. It might not draw you in. You may not feel the characters are realistic or relatable. Or it might just feel like something was left out.

In my years of experience as a fiction writer, editor and workshopper, I have found that setting is often the missing piece. The writer might fail to help us feel immersed in the story through important clues about where the story is taking place, and what that place looks like, feels like, and sounds like.

Tips for Creating Your Story’s Setting

  1. Identify the location: One of the most important things you can do to create your story’s setting is to decide in advance where the story is going to take place. Is it in a small town? A school? A restaurant?
  2. Determine the time frame: And decide whether the story is taking place now, at a time in the past, or a time in the future.
  3. Infuse the story with details that are consistent with your setting: Once you have made these choices, you can now ensure that you sprinkle details pertaining to that time and place into your story.

For example, let’s say your story is going to take place in 1990 in Silicon Valley, when Google was just becoming a phenomenon. Well, your cast of characters is going to have to have the right gear, such as large mobile phones with antennas that have to be pulled out.

If your story takes place in a family home in 1965, when your character makes a phone call, they would pick up a handset from a wired phone that is sitting on an end table or mounted on the wall.

And if your story takes place far into the future, you will need to imagine what communications will be like at that time. Perhaps we will all have devices like Airpods and will not carry a phone at all.

It’s All in the Details

One of the ways you can truly delight your readers is by including visual and sensory details that help them get a feel for the place and time of your story.

If it’s early morning on a farm, the meadowlarks will be singing, and the cows will be mooing to be milked and to be fed.

If it’s late at night in an airport, some people will be curled up asleep in uncomfortable positions. Maybe one of them is snoring. A mother might be carrying a sleepy toddler who looks like a rag doll. There will be an aroma of jet fuel and the squeaking wheels of luggage carts.

In summary, don’t forget the setting details. These form the glue that bind us to your story and make us feel like we are right there where the story is taking place.

Be sure to see this related tip: Let’s Explore World Building.

Happy writing!

@jayna, writer and moderator at The Ink Well.

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If you're looking to up your fiction game and reach that next level, check out my past writing tips linked below.

Writing Tip #1: Writing from a Prompt

Writing Tip #2: Adding Conflict

Writing Tip #3: Writing What You Know

Writing Tip #4: Avoiding the Dreaded Info Dump

Writing Tip #5: Is ‘Show Don’t Tell’ a Writing Rule?

Writing Tip #6: How Fiction Writing Is Like Weaving

Writing Tip #7: Put It On the Page

Writing Tip #8: What Is a Story Arc?

Writing Tip #9: Should You Plot Your Story?

Writing Tip #10: Don’t Start a Story This Way!

Writing Tip #11: What Is “Writing Voice”?

Writing Tip #12: Reveal Everything and Nothing

Writing Tip #13: Character Types in Fiction

Writing Tip #14: Clichés - Avoid the Conspiratorial Wink

Writing Tip #15: Developing Memorable Characters

Writing Tip #16: Writing Character Descriptions

Writing Tip #17: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writing Tip #18: Don’t Be a Copycat (Plagiarism is Wrong)

Writing Tip #19: Hook Your Readers

Writing Tip #20: Lessons in Tense Part 1

Writing Tip #21: Editing Your Work with Fresh Eyes

Writing Tip #22: We want to hear from you! What do you want to know?

Writing Tip #23: The Value of Workshops and Feedback

Writing Tip #24: What Are Plotters and Pantsers?

Writing Tip #25: Do Short Stories Have to Have a Plot?

Writing Tip #26: Action, Dialog and Narrative: The Dynamic Trio

Writing Tip #27: Let’s Explore World Building

Writing Tip #28: Getting Unstuck in Fiction Writing

Writing Tip #29: What Does It Take to Be a Fiction Writer?

Writing Tip #30: Help for the Grammatically Challenged

Writing Tip #31 PART 1: Don't Write This Type of Mystery

Writing Tip #31 PART 2: Stunning Writing Examples

Writing Tip #32: What Is “Author Intrusion”

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