18 Lesson 6: Building a Setting
Setting is the place and time that a story occurs. It’s the backdrop of the story. Without it, the character(s) are speaking and acting without a sense of living anywhere. So, how is a setting built?
Writers may have their character(s) live in a place that exists in real life, a place in the world or universe that is familiar to the writer or that can be researched by the writer. Also, writers may build a new place and time, an imaginary place in an imaginary world. The location may be rural, a city, or outer space, but it can also be smaller in size like a neighborhood, street, or house.
Part of the location is the geography of the land. It can include coastal areas, mountains, trees, rivers, lakes, plants, meadows, farms, deserts, etc. Wherever the location is, it is connected to the rest of the world or universe; it is not in isolation from other places.
Part of the location is the climate. It can include rain, snow, winds, sun, etc. The temperature may be frigid cold, scorching hot, or somewhere in between. The climate may create harsh conditions for characters, or it may make life easier.
Time has two focal points: the time of year and the time of day. The time of year includes seasons, holidays, or special dates and anniversaries for the characters.
The time of day references morning, afternoon, or evening. Time also shifts over the course of the story. The story may happen in an hour like in “The Story of an Hour” or an afternoon like in “Miss Brill.” It can also happen over a longer period of time like a summer in “The White Heron.”
Past events may have had an impact on the place. Wars, famines, prosperity, population, etc. impact communities. Histories of past ancestors (people) or leaders also leave their influences in religion, foods, family values, etc. So although a writer might write in a modern day time period, knowing the background of the history of the setting and people is essential.
As stated previously in Lesson 3, setting can function as a main force that the characters encounter, such as a tornado or flood, or a setting can play a minor role like setting the mood. Often times, the setting can reveal something about the main character as he/she functions in that place and time period.