To help explain the importance of setting in literature, The Writers’ Academy tutor Dr. Barbara Henderson has put together a free online masterclass on how to weave setting into a story.
Read on below for her expert advice on how to let setting stand alongside other narrative elements and help bring your tale to life.
Then you can head over to check out the full online masterclass, Constructing Worlds and Setting Scenes, for even more of Dr. Henderson’s tips and information on setting!
What is Setting in Literature?
So what kind of elements come under the general umbrella term of ‘setting’? Perhaps obviously, it’s the country, the town, the city, the street, the house, the school – anywhere that’s a particular place in your novel:
- The time of year – is it summer or winter or a significant date such as Halloween?
- The climate – or a climate issue affects your plot. A harsh climate can affect a story, as can a tropical one.
- How the land looks – the mountains or the trees or the rivers or the coast. It’s about human-made geography, such as cities and monuments and tower blocks and cemeteries and bridges and mines and farms.
- Population – who’s around your main character and what sort of society do they live in?
- The time period or era – is your story contemporary or is it set in another time – the past or the future. If it’s set in the past, what events were going on at the time, culturally and politically? What values and social mores did people have that are different to ours today?
- The time of day – scenes play out at night, in the morning, over lunch. Setting is about atmosphere and mood – you can use aspects like the light, the temperature and the weather to affect the way a scene feels, the way the reader feels.
Description of Setting
Purposes of Setting in Literature
- as a character – particularly common in works of crime fiction, giving your setting character traits can really make it come alive.
- as foreshadowing – setting can be used to convey a sense of threat, for example, to prepare a reader for an upcoming plot development.
- to create atmosphere – similarly, setting can be used to build suspense and to evoke a particular mood in the reader.
Tip: Write about the character of your setting: is it friendly, secretive, shiny, grubby, aggressive, dangerous?
A Final Reminder
You can see the full transcript of Dr. Barbara Henderson’s free online masterclass on setting in literature, with extra tips and more in-depth discussion of the above points, here:
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