“But Aneeta, my story took place in a room. There’s nothing special about it,” Sara said when we were discussing the setting of her story.
Here’s the thing: the actual location of your story doesn’t matter. It’s how you ‘transport’ your reader to such an unusual location that matters. If you can set your story against a thrilling, unfamiliar or exotic backdrop, you will certainly excite the reader’s imagination and enhance the quality of your story. The following is an explanation of how to find a suitable setting for your story and suitable examples.
Finding a suitable setting
Your aim should be to create a setting that reflects the mood of your story. For instance, if the theme of your story is about a group of people trapped in small and frustrated lives, make sure that the world you create for them is one that is confined and restricted. It should be a world where rules and conventions keep them hemmed in. If your setting is more bizarre and unusual, readers are more likely to accept spooky and surreal events happening there.
A fresh perspective
Even if you choose a fairly normal setting, readers expect you to show unusual aspects of such a routine world. For example, if you set your story in the suburbs, it does not have to be dull. Instead, show us what really goes on behind respectable suburban lives. Readers love to read about the scandals, crime and illicit romances in such apparently ‘boring’ places.
A word of caution: although you need to describe your setting, do not overwhelm your readers with a travelogue. Instead, feed the details of your setting into the text appropriately.
Examples of suitable settings
The following are three examples of settings for novels.
You can use a menacing setting when dealing with office politics or a case of conflict within the family. The setting should be edgy and hostile; it can be anything from a desolate desert, icy terrain, towering mountain ranges and crashing seas to city boardrooms and prison walls. The idea is that you are placed in a situation that is unfamiliar and unsuited to your nature. This increases the conflict in the plot and makes the reader wonder if you will ever succeed.
Everyone fantasises about the world of the rich and famous. If you move in such circles, then set a story in a palace or mansion. Explain what it’s like to rub shoulders with people who lead a jet-set life. I’m not saying that everything must be wonderful in this world. For example, a book like ‘Some Girls: My Life in Harem’ by Jillian Lauren, is an autobiographical account of one woman’s experiences when she stayed as the guest of the Sultan of Brunei between 1992 and 1995. The subject matter and drama of her story aside, Lauren’s description of the lavish and extraordinary palace made it fascinating to read.
When you choose to have a setting that is powerful, the idea is to create one that is dynamic and where important decisions are made. For instance, company boardrooms, secret government departments, courtrooms, exclusive clubs, and casinos are all places where people of influence wield power and things can become dangerous in an instant.
Ultimately, you should always keep in mind that however exotic or exciting your setting is, it is, primarily, the backdrop of your story. The detailed care and attention you give to creating an appropriate setting for your story will be appreciated by everyone.
- Rozelle , Ron. Description and Setting: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Believable World of People, Places and Events (Write Great Fiction) Writer’s Digest Books (24 Jun 2005)
- WritersandArtists.co.uk. Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A&C Black (June 30, 2010)
- Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know About Creating & Selling Your Work. Writer’s Digest Books; 2 edition (August 22, 2010).
Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time
The location Sara chose for her story was a room in Shekar’s new meditation centre. It was perfect for Sara’s story because it provided the necessary contrast for her story. On the one hand, there was this backdrop of a sanctuary of peace. And on the other hand, she could explore the raging emotions within her.
Now that all the parts of telling a great story have been mapped out, all that’s left is to put them all together.
Aneeta Sundararaj tells the stories of a diverse group of people from cardiologists and Ayurveda practitioners to independent financial advisors. ‘Two Snakes Whistling at the Same Time’ is included in a collection of stories that she is working on. Subscribe to the free newsletter on her website, ‘How to Tell a Great Story’ (http://www.howtotellagreatstory.com).