Setting Your Setting

Avid readers know that some stories seem to rely more on setting than others. Sometimes, the setting is so prominent it feels like a character. In other books, the setting is a bare-bones backdrop to the story.

But no matter how subtle, the setting has more impact on your story than you may realize because it’s where your characters live. They must act within it and react to it regardless. These factors range from everything from geography, to the current events of their time to available technology.

Can you imagine Scarlett O’Hara reacting to World War I rather than The War Between the States? Or the Crusades? Of if she lived in Ohio instead of Georgia?

What if Batman lived in Mayberry, North Carolina, instead of Gotham? (Today’s photo is proof that it could happen!)

While a great romance, mystery or other timeless story will touch hearts regardless of the setting, I would still caution writers not to be too cavalier when choosing settings. Not only do your characters have to live in your setting, but you also have to live with it. Be sure you love the place and time period you choose.

Your turn:

What is your favorite setting to write?

What is your favorite setting to read?

What setting would you find most difficult to write?


[Today’s photo found at]

16 Responses to Setting Your Setting

  1. Avatar
    Sarah Chafins September 4, 2014 at 4:26 am #

    I love to write stories set in the country in the southeastern part of the U.S. because it’s familiar to me. Additionally, I love the historical period because I’m very amazed at how they lived during that time period- particularly in the late 1800s and early 1900s before WW1. On the flip side of this, I also enjoy writing in a fantasy setting. There’s something so exciting about creating a setting from scratch, or pulling bits of characteristics from multiple settings to create something new.

    I love to read stories in settings that I’m not familiar with. I’m always interested in how people live in other places, where I haven’t lived or traveled.

    I think writing a story set in the city or in a foreign country would be difficult since I have never lived in the city, nor traveled abroad. I wouldn’t let that stop me from giving it a try though. Researching it might be fun.

  2. Avatar
    Jackie Layton September 4, 2014 at 4:54 am #

    I enjoy writing stories set in Kentucky, Georgia, and North Carolina. These are the states where I’ve spent most of my life. I’m more comfortable and familiar with these settings.

    I enjoy stories set on the coast and in France.

    I’ve noticed not many stories are set in big cities. New York City and Boston fascinate me (as well as other big cities). It seems like writers could focus on a small area of a big city which would give the small town feel and still “visit” the exciting parts of the city.

    Any thoughts? Thanks.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 4, 2014 at 7:31 am #

      Jackie, this is such an excellent question that when I tried to answer, I ended up with 429 words (which need to be edited). Since the answer should help lots of our blog readers, and since I don’t perceive anyone must have the response today, I will answer you in a future blog post. Thank you for being a regular reader, and for commenting.

      • Avatar
        Jackie Layton September 4, 2014 at 7:55 am #

        You’re welcome.

        I’ll look forward to the post on this topic. This is one of my favorite places to drop by on Thursdays.

        Have a great day!

  3. Avatar
    Candice Sue Patterson September 4, 2014 at 4:57 am #

    Setting is my thing. By far one of my most favorite parts of a story. I’m annoyingly detail oriented, so when it comes to setting I strive to make the reader feel like they’re there. So far, the stories I’ve written are set on the east coast, but my favorite books to read are ones set out west.

  4. Avatar
    Chris Storm September 4, 2014 at 5:30 am #

    When I first began writing I could go on for pages and pages about the bare skeletal tree branches clawing crooked shadows through the silvery moon. (Are you bored yet?) Anthropomorphism. (I just looked it up.) And then I realized that it was the character’s dilemmas, motivations, hopes and fears that makes the reader turn that next page. Now I try to maintain a healthy focus on character, but still tweak a little extra scenery in now and then. Can’t help myself. I guess I’m an anthropomorphist. (Is that even a word?) Maybe it’s anthropomorhphister? 🙂 Good blog topic, Tamela!

  5. Avatar
    Rebbekka September 4, 2014 at 6:26 am #

    The manuscript I’m working on is set in the early 1960’s in a mental institution. The setting plays a huge part in this story.

  6. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka September 4, 2014 at 7:13 am #

    Hmm, my favorite setting to write…..When it comes to individual scenes, I find it easiest to write food settings—making a meal or in a restaurant. Of course, you can only have so many of those scenes in one book. 😉

    My stories all occur in Denver or the Colorado region, because it’s what I know best. But I confess, I haven’t fully taken advantage of all the places within Denver where I could write interesting scenes. I’m a contemporary writer, so that aspect of setting plays a definitive role in the story.

    • Avatar
      Sondra Kraak September 4, 2014 at 9:01 am #

      Jeanne, that’s so interesting about food settings. I’d been thinking about settings in a general sense–for example, I write historical in early Seattle, but think of my branding as the Pacific Northwest, second half of the nineteenth century. You must enjoy cooking to love writing about meals, restaurants, etc.–or have wonderful memories in these settings.

      • Avatar
        Jeanne Takenaka September 4, 2014 at 9:27 am #

        Sondra, I do enjoy cooking when I have time. :). My books don’t revolve around food, but it seems to play a role in every story. Fellowship and conversations happen over meals in real life. I just have to make them a bit more interesting in my stories. 😉

        The Pacific Northwest is beautiful. I worked one summer up there near the beach in the middle of nowhere. I loved it!

  7. Avatar
    Jenelle. M September 4, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    Fun questions!

    Fantasy, lush landscapes, color and various types of terrain. Since I don’t travel much, those are settings I enjoying writing about. I usually make them up, but of course they’re inspired by actual places like the southern states, Maine, Italy, Scotland, and parts of Asia that I’ve become fascinated with as I read history.

    Again since I don’t travel much, I liked being swept away to anything with color and magnificent terrain, which is why I prefer fantasy or stories set in desirable places to me.

    Dystopian would be difficult for me to write since it’s usually so brown and barren.

    The more I think about this, the more I’m amazed how influenced I am about buying a story based on the setting. Huh. I’m going to marinate on that more. Thank you!

  8. Avatar
    Sondra Kraak September 4, 2014 at 9:06 am #

    As I mentioned above in replying to Jeanne, I write historical set in the Pacific Northwest late 19th Century. When I was first thinking of writing a novel, since I love mountains and rural settings, I was going to set it in Colorado. However, I felt like that setting had been used and used and used, which was okay, but I wanted to be different. I grew up in Seattle and love the combination of mountains and sea. Funny though that recently Lori Copeland and Tracie Peterson have written with a historical Seattle setting. I hope this will draw interest in the area and not discourage publishers from accepting any more Seattle area books.

    Tamela, do you think it’s helpful for a writer to brand herself in one region, just as it’s helpful for a writer to stick within a genre when beginning?

  9. Avatar
    Debra L. Butterfield September 4, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    My current WIP is set in Montana, present day; however, I may have to move it. I’ve never lived there and know little about the terrain or weather. So I either have to make a visit or research this info so I can be accurate in my descriptions and sensory details.

    I enjoy reading settings of all kinds, but mistakes in the setting do impact my enjoyment of the story. I can forgive typos a lot easier than I can mistakes in historical fact/setting.

  10. Avatar
    Nick Kording September 4, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    I love to write in modern day America – big cities contrasted with heroes coming from smaller areas. I also like a fantastical element mixed with contemporary America… Would kill me to write historical or Amish settings… or alien worlds…

  11. Avatar
    Jenni Brummett September 4, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    I grew up in California, and still live here. The natural history of the state, and the more vague areas of state history are what fascinate me the most. Mix that with liberal amounts of spine-tingling Gothic romance, and that’s what I write.

  12. Avatar
    Karen Ingle September 5, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

    When I moved to Minnesota from California, I found out my new home is fascinating. The weather shifts from erratic to beautiful to threatening–an antagonist in the making. Minnesota’s history is full of gentle sweetness and rugged adventure. So my first novel is set in Minnesota, back when the population changed as quickly as the weather… the days of expanding railroads and the Homestead Act.

    My favorite setting to read? Any. All.

    The hardest to write would be an unfamiliar foreign land in the present. I like how the past can be examined while it stays put; the present is fluxing faster than I can study it. I want to see the places I write about. Hmm, an excuse to travel more, perhaps?

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