This Is a Towel: Setting

writeworld:

Anonymous said: Can you link me to some posts you have about making up settings, specifically in fantasy?

Firstly, what is a settingHere’s a great definition from UDL Editions:

SettingThe setting is the environment in which a story or event takes place. Setting can include specific information about time and place (e.g. Boston, Massachusetts, in 1809) or can simply be descriptive (eg. a lonely farmhouse on a dark night). Often a novel or other long work has an overall setting (e.g. a Midwestern town during the Depression), within which episodes or scenes occur in different specific settings (eg. the courthouse). Geographical location, historical era, social conditions, weather, immediate surroundings, and time of day can all be aspects of setting. 

A setting is a literary component, one of the fundamentals of fiction along with plot, character, theme, and style (x). As such, it’s worth pursuing a deep understanding of the effect of setting on the story and in relation to every other literary element in your toolbox.

Along with tone, setting creates the atmosphere of your story. Right from the beginning, a story’s atmosphere draws readers in and sets up expectations for them about the story they will experience.

For example:

It was a bleak evening, to be sure. The blackening gray sky cowered low on the horizon, and the Morrow house sat straight-backed and alone on the hill, its old Victorian towers and turrets puncturing the bellies of the clouds. 

The atmosphere here is morose, maybe even sinister. The beginnings of a setting can be seen at the mention of the Morrow house, an old Victorian mansion at the top of a hill (and the story’s location), and by the mention of the weather.

The tone, which complements and strengthens the setting, is conveyed by the descriptions, the word choices made by the writer. Words like “bleak”  and “blackening” and “gray” as well as phrases like “cowered low,” “straight-backed and alone,” and “puncturing the bellies” contribute to the grim tone. The name of the house, “Morrow,” feels somber and austere, and the inclusion of “Victorian,” a time period known for its gothic novels and strict but often subverted moral code, both advance the tone of this example.

From your first word to your last, setting and tone work together as atmosphere to introduce the reader to the story and lure them in. To think of tone and setting as separate literary elements is to limit their utility. They are sisters, and each should be considered with the other as you write.

A believable setting lends credibility to the world of your story. If your setting feels real, whole and established, the rest of the story feels stronger and more substantial within it. Just to reiterate, the setting of a story includes but is not limited to:

  • Geographical Location
  • Immediate Surroundings
  • Historical Era
  • Social Conditions/Culture
  • Weather/Climate
  • Time (Hour/Day/Year)

So, now that we know what it is, how do you get a setting? A huge part of setting creation is worldbuilding (world-building, world building), so let’s talk about that. From Wikipedia:

Worldbuilding: The process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe. 

Though worldbuilding can include character development as well, its primary focus is on the creation of a solid setting. With that in mind, here’s a semi-organized list of worldbuilding posts from WriteWorld and elsewhere.

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