Aug 15 2011

Redefining Setting

Published by at 3:54 am under Guest Articles,Setting,Writing Articles

Setting is indisputably an integral part of any story. To a large extent, setting defines your story by shaping the character’s experiences.  Even more so than character, setting tends to be the most memorable and instantly recallable aspect of a story.


Some writers treat settings merely as a backdrop.  This is a damaging, borderline murderous view that inhibits the setting’s ability to captivate and engross readers.   A backdrop, no matter how beautiful or intricate, is only a backdrop. Just a necessary aspect of creative works of art that is taken for granted.  A setting can do so much more for your story.


The key to making your setting exceptional is to treat it as it deserves to be treated, like a character.


Your setting needs to be active and dynamic, not just the backdrop for your story. Doing so will make it feel more authentic, realistic, and will immerse your readers. Beyond that it will also, as I said before, make your story exceptional.


When writing setting as a character, please keep in mind the many aspects that come together to create setting.  For example:

  • The people that populate your settings and how people in a certain area tend to think and act. For example, if a car backfires in your main character’s town, how do bystanders instinctively react?  Is the town so friendly that they reactively call a mechanic?  Or are they so used to gunfire that they hit the deck and reach for their Glocks?  (Depending on how bad crime is, people will probably react differently to something that sounds like a gunshot).
  • The climate of the area.
  • Things going on in the background (like a heated background argument setting the mood but not directly affecting the heroes).
  •  How the setting evolves.  For example, perhaps the protagonists visit a small, bustling shop that has grown into a large establishment when the characters return.


These details won’t be noticed by everyone, but they provide the necessary ammunition for guns of respect and admiration to sound off in your honor.


Jeremy Melloul is a student and writer who indulges in all forms of writing from poetry, to comic books, to short stories or novels, to screenplays, and even to technical papers.

13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Redefining Setting”

  1. O.R.on 16 Aug 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Nice article. Examples that spring to mind are Hogwarts or Tim Sandlin’s GroVont.

  2. JMelloulon 16 Aug 2011 at 7:40 pm

    Thank you! I’m not familiar with the latter of the two; what is it exactly? Hogwarts, though, is a great example.

  3. B. Macon 16 Aug 2011 at 7:51 pm

    The New York Times’ synopsis for the first GroVont book: “Newly arrived in the backwater town of GroVont, Wyoming, teenager Sam Callahan is initiated into adulthood when he embarks on a period of intense sexual experimentation with sassy, smart Maurey Pierce.” The first book is available on Amazon here.

  4. Snowon 16 Aug 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Will definitely be using these ideas in developing my city. 😀

    There’s not enough time passing to justify a business boom, but the rest of it will be incorporated.

    Thanks for this!

  5. Anonymouson 16 Aug 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Thanks Brian! Appreciate that. I’m glad to hear that Snow; you’re welcome!

  6. Jeremy Melloulon 16 Aug 2011 at 9:52 pm

    For the record ^ that was me.

  7. Snowon 17 Aug 2011 at 10:10 am

    Pulling from the article on Writing Authentic Male Characters*, do you think that a guy would be more likely to think in terms of “For example, if a car backfires…” and a girl in terms of “Wow, this place is really clean/really rundown?”

    That is, would a guy be less likely to focus on the appearance of the place and more on the people on the street, and how they’re acting/reacting?


  8. Anonymouson 17 Aug 2011 at 12:30 pm

    In my opinion it’s hard to answer that question in one broad stroke. I think that depends on the culture wherever the guys and girls in questions are and how women and men are believed to be.

    If a perception last long enough, it will begin to permeate into the development of children and make the ‘stereotype’ a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I can’t really answer that for you since I don’t know *why* you need the information (i.e. I’m assuming it’s for your story but since I don’t know your character’s origins all too well I can’t comfortably or confidently answer). If you ask yourself, though, why the male might notice the people on the street more than the appearance of the street itself, while the female would do the opposite, and you can come up with logical reasons based on the rules and actuality of your created world, and not our reality (unless they’re one and the same) then it would probably be fine for you to have the guy notice how the people are acting and reading and the girl notice the appearance of the place itself.

    Hope that was a clear enough answer.

  9. Grenacon 17 Aug 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I agree with Anon, it’ll most likely depend on what your character’s are like to know what they’d pay most attention to. Like a clean freak would pay attention to how unsanitary the place is, things like that.

  10. Jeremy Melloulon 17 Aug 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Sorry, switching between computers constantly, so I keep showing up as anonymous…

    And thanks for agreeing Grenac. I didn’t just mean what the character’s are like in the specific sense, like in your example where one of the character is a clean freak, I also meant that it’ll depend on the perceived role, behavior, and traits of men and women in the society they come from.

  11. Grenacon 17 Aug 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Yes, that too. Sorry about that.

  12. Snowon 17 Aug 2011 at 4:41 pm

    That makes sense. I’ll have to look more closely at that.

    At any rate, you’ve given me a new angle to consider, and that’s always fun!


  13. Jeremy Melloulon 18 Aug 2011 at 2:39 am

    No problem! Feel free to ask if you have more questions.

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