Wednesday, October 7, 2009


It's one of the things any writer decides almost at the beginning. Where does my story take place? In a familiar location? In another country? On another planet? Is it taking place now? In the future? In the past? Some stories can take place anywhere; some can only take place in a specific location. How big a role do settings play?

In the case of my current WIP, this story could only take place at this location. I couldn't move it to another country, nor could I move it to another time in history. Some of the plots depend on it. It's just the way it is. It is frustrating sometimes that I can't get in my car and drive there, but I'm compensating with pictures from internet sites, period travel literature and my own memories of being in that general part of the country. I wish I could write books that could happily be placed in my own backyard (so to speak) and in my own time. Ah, well; I shall put it down to one of life's little jests.

In some books, settings are background and nothing else. The same story could be picked up and placed (for instance) in any large city or any small town. A tale of a young woman finding the love of her life (and really good shoes) doesn't have to take place in New York or London. Breathlessly paced political thrillers don't have to be set in national capitols, but it certainly helps up the ante. Let's face it, the ramifications of trouble at the White House or Whitehall are more dire than the spectre of trouble at City Hall.

Then there are the settings that lend themselves to certain types of characters. There's not a large number of moonshine-brewin', tobacco spittin' types walking around Wall Street (or if there are, they're very well disguised). Granny isn't going to be sitting on the porch, sipping a mint julip, in Paris. If you need these characters then you have to give them their setting, whether you actually can get there or not.

Did your plot dictate your setting, or did your setting dictate your plot? Do you have a character that only works in one type of setting? Is your setting simply the background for your story or is it a character by itself?


  1. For some reason, most of my stories take place in suburbia and the settings serve primarily as backdrops. I wish I was more interested in using fantastic/compelling/interesing settings, but I guess I'm more drawn to the characters' dilemmas than their surroundings. Maybe I don't want the setting getting in the way?

    It's a weakness I should work on.

  2. The one I'm sort of brewing in my head will have to take place near the ocean. Since I live in Texas, I'm thinking of setting it in South Padre Island, but I'm not saying that place is set in stone. I want to do some more research.

    Straight From Hel

  3. I've written a couple of short stories that were set in places I've never been to, but the settings for most of what I write are in places I've at least visited. Some of my work has historical subplots, though, and I haven't mastered time travel yet. Takes a lot of research. I love the internet for things like that.

  4. Alan; WIth strong characters with interesting dilemmas, you'll have a story no matter where it takes place!

    Helen; You're so practical. Wish my brain worked like yours.

    Carol; It does take lots of research. Luckily for me, English history was my first love.

  5. Book one is set in 1978 Korea. The setting is integral to the story, so, in that case, I’m stuck. The WIP could be set in any number of places, at least two of the plotlines could. The third takes place in Vietnam, and pretty much I’m stuck with that setting.

    Best Regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  6. I feel a strong need to set my stories in places that I have spent time in. I am fortunate to have lived in many varied locales, and to have experienced many places. I do think the imagination of the author knows no limits. Otherwise there would be no fantasy, no science fiction.

  7. I don't particularly enjoy writing settings, but agree that they have an impact on most books. My books are set in Southern towns--one where everyone knows everyone else and gossip features in the crime. The other series is set in a larger town, Memphis, which allows for more characters, but still a slower pace and lots of visiting among characters.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  8. Funny you should ask that now. My WIP is for the Harlequin Presents contest, which dictates books should be set in international settings. It's one I thought would be a struggle, since I've only ever lived in America, but I chose England, a place I've been, and set it in a deserted home that is similar to a castle. Setting is playing a HUGE part in it.

  9. Elspeth - Thanks for making me think about setting. You're right that some novels require a certain kind of setting, or it just doesn't work. In my case, it's the sleuth that has determined the setting. My sleuth is a college professor, so he does best in a university setting. However, what's interesting is that my new WIP has my sleuth traveling to a conference - a new setting : ). I'm glad you brought the whole notion of settings up.

  10. In my most recent story, the setting needs to be in a large US city, but it doesn't matter much which one. In the story I'm going to work on for NaNo, the setting is a much more powerful element to the mystery, and could not possibly be changed. I haven't done this before - I'm looking forward to the challenge :)

  11. In both of my amateur sleuth mysteries, the setting helped create the plot. As a matter of fact, in the first book, I picked the setting before I create the characters or the story.

    In an unpublished manuscript waiting for revision, a mystery set in Frontier Illinois in the early 1800s, setting established many of the details of the story. However, I could move the plot to a dozen other locations and write a similar tale.

    In my current WIP, setting is not critical to the story at all. I miss it as though I had left out an important character.

  12. I think settings are so important. My problem has been characters that up and move mid-novel to another location - one which I don't know. I can't get them back for anything so I've had to shelve that novel until I can get there. The one I just finished I kept firmly in my own back yard and if it becomes the series I want it to, there are lots of nearby great locales for my cop to solve crimes in.
    Jan at Crazy Jane

  13. Galen; Lucky you to be able to write where the setting doesn't matter and where it does! I wish I could do that...

    Elizabeth; I agree with you about writers' imaginations. I admire anyone who can write science fiction.

    Elizabeth; It sounds like the atmosphere is what's important in your books. Nothing wrong with that!

    Stephanie; What a nice setting for a romance. Best of luck!

    Margot; It's always interesting to put characters into new surroundings. Well done!

    Jemi; Best of luck with NaNo. Wow.

    Patricia; I would miss it too. I wonder what has taken its place in importance in your current WIP?

    Jan; Always easiest to place 'em close. Wish I could. I'm very jealous!

  14. I get very nervous when I must use settings that I've never physically been to. I don't want to get things wrong.


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