Some writers craft meticulous settings and build an amazing worlds, while others use the minimal details to suggest a place. But no matter what kind of story you write, it takes place somewhere. Maybe it's a small room, a town, or even a galaxy. What's more, setting can be a backdrop or a character in the novel. It's versatile!
But what if you're not sure where to set your novel? Then here are a few questions you can ask to find the right setting for your story:
1. Where are your favorite places?
If you’ve always loved a particular location, that passion will spill over into your novel’s setting. A favorite city could be the perfect place for your characters to live. If there’s no specific place, something more general like the beach or the mountains could work as well.
2. What mood or atmosphere do you want the story to have?
If you want a dark and creepy novel, odds are you won’t set it on a bright and sunny beach. (or maybe you will, because you'll want the contrast) The atmosphere of a place bleeds into the story and will either enhance the mood, or give all the wrong signals if it’s conflicting with what you envision.
(More on setting the right tone here)
3. What settings are common to your genre?
If most of the novels in your genre are set in small towns, that’s a pretty good indication that readers expect and look forward to this setting. But that doesn’t mean you have to go with the norm. Do you want a similar setting or something new? Maybe a compromise with a slight twist to what is common for the genre.
4. What location would enhance your story’s conflict and/or theme?
If your story is about the effects of war, setting it in the middle of a war gives you a lot to work with. If the theme is love, setting it in the most romantic city in the world might be a solid idea. You might even want to flip it and use the setting to show what’s lacking in that conflict or theme, like having a love story set in a land of war and hatred.
(More on how much to describe your setting here)
5. What are three critical elements your setting must have?
Odds are you have things you know you want from your setting. Perhaps they’re plot elements, or character history, or even a social construct you want to explore. If there’s something critical about your world and setting, make sure you choose a place that will reflect that.
6. Do you want a real or fictional setting?
You might want the reader to bring her own memories and views of a real place to the story, or you might want to create an entirely make believe world. A fantasy realm, a distant planet, or even a small town that doesn’t actually exist. Real places might require a little more research to ensure you’re not getting facts wrong, but they also bring a sense of realism to the story. A made up place gives you the freedom to do whatever you want, though it might take more work to build that world.
(More on choosing the right words to describe your setting here)
7. Is it a small or large scale location?
Consider the scope of your setting. Maybe you want a small town, or just a small room. You might want the story to spread across continents or galaxies.
8. Do you want an urban or rural area?
Big cities offer things rural places don’t and vice versa. Even if your setting is made up, you have options on how metropolitan it will be.
(More on researching your setting here)
9. Does the protagonist know this place or is she new to it?
A setting feels differently to someone who’s live there her whole life versus a newcomer. Do you want the reader to feel like a newcomer as well, or like a native?
10. Do you want a setting you’re familiar with or something you’d need to research?
You might choose to set the novel in your hometown, or pick a place you’ve always wanted to visit. Knowing the locale might be easier to write, though you might also feel the need to get every detail exact (which can bog you down). The freedom to explore a new location could spark excitement and make the setting come alive, (though you could get details wrong and have readers call you on it.)
The setting brings so much to a story, it's worth taking time to find the one that best enhances that story.
Writing exercise time! (CONTEST CLOSED)
In 250 words or less, describe a setting
But here's the catch--use contradictory imagery. For example, describe a scary setting using a locations that's traditionally, non-scary. Or a romantic setting somewhere that's usually un-romantic. Stuck for ideas? Pick one of these pairings:
A romantic garbage dump.
A terrifying pre-school.
A comforting haunted house.
A funny funeral parlor.
Post your entry in the comments section. Deadline for entries is next Monday, July 8th, at noon, EST. I'll choose the winner and post the finalists on Tuesday, July 9th.
Winner gets a 1000-word critique. Open to all.