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"How Setting Affects Your Story "

by Mark O'Bannon

How Setting Affects Your Story
How Setting Affects Your Story
Some writers make the mistake of ignoring where their stories take place. 

When writing scenes, it’s important to keep in mind where your characters are. 

Even if you’re not writing genres where the setting is important, such as a mystery, science fiction or fantasy, you need to know the world where your story takes place.  An eye for details will allow you to ground the audience in the story. The setting has a tremendous affect on what happens in the story. It is a mistake to ignore such a powerful tool. Imagine how different your story could be when one of these elements changes. Can you picture the tv show LOST without the deserted island? How would the Maltese Falcon have been different if it took place along the beaches of Florida?

Time, Place, Location, Period
Setting is a combination of the time of day, the place where the scene occurs, the geographic location and the period of history.

Time - The time of day or night can change the plot significantly. It can also be interesting if the protagonist doesn't know the time of day. Many stories take place over a short time period, such as one day. Time can also be used to increase tension with the "Ticking Clock" method. Place a "bomb" or some other kind of terrible event in your story and let everyone know when it is going to go off. Is the hero infected with a deadly virus, having only 24 hours to live? Do the terrorists need to be found before they detonate the nuke?

Place - Every story is a conglomeration of separate scenes, each with a unique setting. If you're looking for a way to make your story more interesting, try moving the scenes to a completely different place, such as a bakery, a bowling alley, a garden, or a library. Unique places can also be used to create new sources of conflict or tension. Try putting a scene in the least likely place and see what happens. Las Vegas might be a great place for crime stories, but how about Disneyland?

Location - Where the story takes place will change the story in significant ways. If its a fantasy or science fiction story, you may want to invent an exotic location such as a new world. In fact, these two genres use unique story worlds more than any other genre.

Period - Many romance stories take their flavor from the time period where the story occurs. Historical fiction makes great use of interesting times and places. Your canvas is as vast as all of the civilizations to be found throughout history.

Genre And Setting
As you can see, the genre used to tell your story will have a significant impact on the story. In fact, choosing a genre is the most important decision you will make after you come up with a story idea - the premise. The reason genre is so important is because every genre has a different purpose and unique story beats.

For instance, in a mystery, you'll need a crime (typically a murder), a villain, two plot lines - one plot to describe what apparently happened and another plot describing what really happened. The opponent may not be revealed until the end of the story.

Different genres work better in different settings. The genre will dictate what kinds of places you can use. If you're writing historical fiction, you'll need to choose a time period. If you're writing a fantasy, you'll need to create an interesting world, which is a unique combination of the land, peoples and technology.

Where Your Story Takes Place
Choosing a place for your story can be as interesting as the story itself. Every place will have an impact on the story. Think of the setting as an archetype, with its own personality. The jungle is a wild, untamed place full of danger. The forest is a mysterious place. The haunted house is where ghosts are. Space is a vast, empty place, ready to be explored.

How To Create A Setting
Ask yourself these questions:

1. What genre are you using to write your story?

2. What historical period are you using?

3. Where is it located?

4. Do you want to use several locations?

5. What specific places would you like to use?

6. How do these places affect your story?

7. Is your story taking place over a short time period?

8. Can you add a ticking bomb of some kind?

Where is your story going to be?
Too many writers forget to use the setting in their stories. Take out a piece of paper and write down the answers to the above questions. Think of ways to increase the conflict in your story by adopting elements of the setting and then write them down. When you sit down to write a scene, always ask yourself if you can set the scene in a different place.


- Mark O'Bannon


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