This month, I’ve put together six tenants of story that you need to know, or at least have an idea of, before you start writing (or during the first few chapters, if you’re writing a novel). And now that we have our worlds in place (Click Here if you haven’t read Tuesday’s post!), it’s time to work on the next piece of our story puzzle.
Defining your setting
It’s different from your world, I promise. See, the world is the big picture, the ultimate backdrop to your story as a whole. The setting, however, is smaller than that. Setting is the immediate backdrop, the place where your story is being acted out at any given time. And your setting can actually be focused on several unique locations at a time, while your world is all of it, lumped together.
Think of it like this: You live on planet Earth, in the United States, but your story actually takes place in your home, at your workplace, and wherever you go to hang out with friends.
It’s the same way for your story. You have to have the world in place so you know the ultimate backdrop, so you know what’s going on outside this story and know the things that will influence your characters in their decision making, but you really need to nail your setting if you want your story to shine.
Here are a few things you need to know, to help develop your setting:
- Where do your characters live?
- Where do they work?
- How do they get there?
- What time do they work?
- Where do they go, when they’re not home or working?
- What places do they most enjoy?
- What city?
- What climate?
- What season?
- What year?
- (If your world isn't Earth, you'll want to expand this list to include details about cities, townships, landscape, topography, etc.)
All of these will be informed by the world you created, yes, but they will be fully formed within the setting itself. This is where your story will actually take place, where we’ll see the things that really matter.
I will say, actually, that defining your setting is slightly more important than defining your world. Like I said last time, I have written entire series’ without having my worlds defined, but it’s easier if you do it beforehand. Whereas, if you don’t know your setting while you’re writing your story, how are your readers ever supposed to follow what’s going on?
We like to visualize what we’re reading; we like to be able to see it in our minds. If even you can’t do that, if you haven’t taken the time to clearly define your setting and everything in it, then your readers will be hopelessly lost.
That’s the last thing we want.
So, take some time to define your setting. Even if all you do is make sure to clearly define it within your first two chapters. Do it. Then copy/paste some of those details into another document so you can easily refer back to it when the time comes—because, as we all know, it will come, and it'll be easier on you if you don't have to read an entire chapter to find the one detail you're looking for.