Writing Tips for Teens: Setting
I’ve been posting #writingtipsforteens on the first week of each month. This month’s subject is setting.
So, what is setting? Generally, setting is the time and place of your story. To give a couple examples: Star Wars takes place long, long ago in a galaxy far away. Indigo by Beverly Jenkins is set in Michigan during the Civil War. The sky’s the limit--anything is possible in fiction! But you as the author will need to choose a specific setting for your story.
I usually choose my setting first, because I write historical fiction. But even if you write in another genre, I recommend spending some time thinking about setting to give your book or story a dramatic boost and ground your story and characters.
How do I choose a setting?
You may want to choose a time and place that has drama already built into it—that’s why I chose the Alaska Gold Rush for my first novel. For romance (or other character-driven genres), it is also handy if you can build in some character conflict with love interests, enemies, or friends from different groups in your setting. For example, you might have main characters from different worlds, like rich and poor, or city and country, or from different backgrounds. That can be a great opportunity to add diversity to your story. Above all, find a setting that speaks to you. You’ll spend a lot of time there while writing your book.
How can I use setting to ground my characters?
Once you have a setting, you can use it to do some world building. You can ask yourself questions like: What kind of geography or ecology do you have—are you in the mountains, desert, forest, on a beach, in farmland? Are you in the country, or a city, a small town or suburb? If you’re in a place with a group of people (or animals or aliens or whatever), is it a structured community? Are there different classes or groups within the larger group? Is the time period today or in current times, in the past, or in the future? If it’s in Earth time, give yourself a specific time period, like a particular year or decade, for example near the end of World War II in 1945, or in this decade, or one hundred years in the future in the 2120s.
Once you know your setting better, it’s easier to create a main character. You might ask yourself questions like: Is your character a leader or a follower? Or maybe she (or he, they, etc.—I’m using “she” in my examples today.) is a loner, an independent who does her own thing? If your setting has characters from different groups, what group does she belong to? Does she try to fit in or stand out? These things will help ground your character in her setting.
What else can I do with setting?
Another fun thing you can do is have your character reveal herself by the way she describes the setting. Moods or attitudes can show a lot about the character or what they’re going through. For example, there’s a big difference between:
Taylor couldn’t stand the beach. The hot sand burned her bare feet and got all over her car’s interior no matter how often she vacuumed.
Terry loved the beach. The warm sun on her skin and the sound of the waves made every bad thing in her life fade away.
Now, go play with your setting, and see how it can add life to your writing!
Please comment if you have any questions. Take care. See you next month.