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How Setting Influences Story

reception, the bridesmaid reveals that she and the best man had drunken fling the night before the wedding. As they head off on their honeymoon together, the bride and the groom must work through this crisis or their marriage will end before it has truly even begun.

This is a story that could happen virtually anywhere, and at almost any time in history. It could be a comedy, melodrama or tragedy. All of the elements are there for any sort of story you can imagine. The overt crisis (though not the underlying conflict) is clear and the stakes are equally clear. Consider though, the effect that setting would have on this story.

Setting #1: 2008. The wedding took place at a posh hotel in Chicago, The bride and groom now face a long plane ride to Hawaii, where they have secured a small villa right on the beach. While they are in Hawaii they are scheduled to attend a luau, an island tour and snorkeling in a private lagoon.

Setting #2: 1988. The couple were married at a Las Vegas chapel by an Elvis impersonator. The reception was held at the Circus Circus hotel buffet, which is the hotel they will be staying at, surrounded by their family and friends, for the next several days. They have tickets to see Rich Little and have booked a helicopter tour of the Las Vegas Strip.

Setting #3: 1954. Rural Virginia. The couple were married in a large church wedding with the reception at the Elk’s Lodge. For their honeymoon they are driving down to a small motel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Their car is a ten-year old Cadillac.

Obviously these are rudimentary setting details, but I think you can get an idea that the three different settings lend themselves to dramatically different effects. A posh villa in Hawaii will influence the characters much differently than a garish casino or a small-town motel. The morals and general atmosphere of the 1950s, the 1980s and the 2000s are very different. The economics of the three settings are also dramatically different. The feeling of being surrounded by family or being isolated during a crisis has influences the characters.

The setting can either have a weak or a strong influence on the plot and the themes of a story, depending on how the writer uses it. Here are a few ideas for choosing your settings:

  • Choose settings that matter to the characters
  • Choose settings that can influence the action
  • Choose settings that you know enough about to describe comfortably
  • Choose settings that will be of interest to the readers
  • Take the time to describe the settings in enough detail for the readers to have a clear idea of where the characters are