First off, remember from Part 1 that setting encompasses such elements as place, time, culture, technology, geography, and weather. Thus, you must decide whether any real setting can work for your story.
Of course, fantasy and sci-fi novels need extensive fictional world building.
Advantages of Real and Fictional Story Settings
It’s all laid out for you; a good map is a great help.
Places you know well facilitate writing the setting.
Your hometown makes research easy; everything’s a car ride away.
You can choose from many ready-made places to enhance the mood of your story. (For a somber mood, perhaps the rainy Northwest)
Actual places give readers a sense of authenticity within the fiction.
Places familiar to readers readily supply them with clear images at the story’s outset. Readers enjoy being transported to places they know.
Real places can help book sales to people who reside there or to visitors who’ve enjoyed the area.
Anything goes, as long as it makes sense to the reader.
You can still employ a mix of real-setting features but give them fictional names.
You don’t have to worry about describing actual landmarks, weather, and geography that don’t live up to readers’ expectations or are wrong.
You can develop the setting to fit the needs of your story: a local business, characters’ outdoor interests, and the area’s traditions.
Disadvantages of Real and Fictional Settings
• You may offend readers who know or love the place, especially if you make statements they consider derogatory.
• You must get your facts right about all elements of the setting, such as geography, weather, and time period.
• You may expect readers to know renowned places as well as you do and unconsciously leave out descriptions they need.
• You could lose sales if book reviews say you did a poor job of presenting a country, state, city, or town.
• You may spend much time researching accurate details on a small town to satisfy only a tiny portion of your readers.
Developing all the elements of setting can be labor intense.
You must ensure the setting elements you develop don’t work against other elements in your story. (In an arid spot, you have the criminal bury body parts in lush parks around the town.)
Both cases require work, either in research or creating the setting. Perhaps employing a combination and using the advantages of both would help with the labor. You could create a fictional setting that is a composite of multiple real places to provide authenticity and the items your story needs. Or you might create a fictional place within a real country or state.
What to consider when deciding between a fictional or real story setting. Click to tweet.
How have you used fiction and reality in developing a book’s setting?
A story setting is more than the place(s) where the author sets characters. It provides the environment in which your drama unfolds, so establish it early in your story. It’s interactive—creating the mood, giving meaning to the plot, and strengthening the story theme.
Elements Under the Setting Umbrella
Locale (state, neighborhood, island, saw mill, school)
1. For authenticity, characters must interact with the things surrounding them. The things characters interact with should be meaningful to the story.
2. Setting can be woven into the story through:
known landmarks (Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, Alamo)
communication devices of the period (smoke signals, black desk telephones, tablets)
items characters use (laser gun, plow & mule, data cards)
clothing (gingham dress, polyester bikini, sari)
music (minuet, country, reggae),
popular sayings (swell, groovy, ballistic)
rooms (lanai, parlor, veranda)
types of buildings (shack, palace, cottage)
events (bubonic plague, gold rush, D-day)
jobs (chimney sweep, backhoe operator, financial planner)
3. What level of setting details is needed?
At one end, familiar settings may need only a few details for a reader to understand the characters’ environment.
At the other end, created worlds and settings that are considered a character may need intricate and abundant details (a haunted house as a character).
Once the reader understands the setting, detailing elements may seem repetitive, especially for faster paced stories. Occasional references or, more often, using the characters’ interactions with setting elements may be more appropriate.
4. View the location as if you’re employing a movie camera.
First, decide the locations, and the places within locations, that best support your plot, characters, and story mood.
Then view the place through your camera lens. This will force you to consider all facets of the place so that you supply, or make more vivid, the features the reader needs in grasping the setting.
5. Mention notable items that readers familiar with the area expect to appear in the setting.
In Part 2, we’ll look at fictional vs. real settings.
Story setting is more than a place; consider this list of the elements. Click to tweet.
What tip do you have to ensure readers understand the story’s setting?