Setting the Stage

snoopySetting is such a crucial piece of a story. In order to have a great story, a writer must not only have dynamic characters, but a setting to put these characters in. All stories have some sort of setting, whether it is in an imaginary land full of mythical creatures or takes place during the 1800s. Setting helps paint a picture for the reader and initiates the main backdrop and mood for a story.

Setting is broadly defined as the location of the plot or where an event takes place. Setting is both the time and geographic location within a narrative or work of fiction. This includes region, geography, climate, buildings, and interiors.

Selecting an appropriate setting for your story must go beyond just you liking it. The behavior of fictional characters often depends on their environment. Setting sets the stage for what happens to your characters. Why does the character need to be there? What part does it play in your character’s journey or their past? Characters need to interact with the setting.

When building your setting, don’t do it all at once. World building should happen over the course of your entire novel, layered into every scene. The goal is to create a well-designed background for your characters without overwhelming the scene or interrupting the story. Carefully balance introducing readers to your world while maintaining plot. Let the setting unfold as the characters move through the scene. Build in elements of weather, lighting, the season, and time. A good rule of thumb is not to spend more than 3-4 paragraphs on setting at a time. Start with the bigger picture then zoom in on the details. Don’t try to include every tiny detail in your description. Focus on things your characters would notice, keeping in mind that different characters will see and interact with the scenery in different ways.

Help the reader picture themselves in the story. Include different senses when describing the setting. In real life, we explore and experience our surroundings through our senses. Through our experiences, we respond with an emotional reaction. Your characters need to do the same.

Utilize the internet and do research. Look up maps, tourist information, and photos of specific places you’d like to include in your setting. Gather information and use some of it when writing your description. If you are able, visit these places in person. It can add depth and flair to your writing.

For more information on setting, see the links below.

Writer’s Edit

Writer’s Digest

The Importance of Story Setting

Common Setting Mistakes

Writing World

Location, Location, Location

On Location


OwegoNYIn movies, the production crew, actors, directors, etc…often go on location to film so the setting of the story is genuine and real.  When they can’t go on location, they research the area and create a set, trying to make it as realistic as possible.

Writing is no different.

As a writer, I find it easier to write about things I am familiar with.  Writing a death scene becomes a less trying task after 2014_0604NewYork0016experiencing loss firsthand.   Writing my characters’ emotions flows smoothly when I’ve experienced those emotions myself.  Since I am around children daily and have children of my own, writing from a child or teenager’s point of view is much more genuine.  I grew up in California and the Pacific Northwest so I am able to easily write scenes in these locations because I’ve lived there.  You get my point.

But there are times when firsthand experiences aren’t always possible.  This is when research and going on location plays a vital role.

I once read a quote that said, “Even when writers aren’t writing, they’re thinking about writing.”  This became more true than I realized when I went on vacation with my family last summer.

2014_0604NewYork0004One of the books in my series partially takes place in Owego, a small town in Tioga County, New York.  At the time, I had never been to Owego.  My husband, however, grew up in that part of the country.   While I listened to his stories, I took notes.  I also perused through pictures and read up on this particular place via the internet.  I had the research part taken care of, but I wasn’t satisfied with that.  I wanted to see it for myself–that firsthand experience.

Since we were heading that direction for vacation anyway, and my husband knew I wanted to see it, we made a side stop in Owego. 2014_0604NewYork0008

Owego is located on the Susquehanna River.  It’s a cool little village with a lot of history attached to it.  Old historic houses dating back to the 1700’s, the old county courthouse, several monuments, and a bridge that connects the town to the highway on the other side.

I was interested in the scenery, the history, the culture, and the overall feel of the town, not only as a tourist but also as a writer.  Even though I wasn’t writing at that moment, you can bet your life I was thinking about writing.   We drove around various neighborhoods, walked around the main street, looked at monuments, and explored the riverwalk.  I took pictures, carefully observed the locals, and took in every scent and sound.2014_0604NewYork0002

The moment we returned to the hotel, I wrote down everything, making special notes about particular things I saw that I wanted to include in my book.

The entire on location experience was unforgettable.  I saw things and places I’d never seen before, was able to get the firsthand experience I needed, spent some quality time with my family, and it was fun.  I hope to return to Owego and visit other cities and towns of interest in the near future.