Lesson 78: Got Setting?

Does your life take place in a vacuum? If I zapped you with a transporter ray and dropped you in the middle of Saudi Arabia, would that make a difference to your everyday life?

Think about this for a minute. Pick today and lay out your day. Could you do your life in Saudi Arabia? I would be executed for going outside in my tank top and shorts to water my garden. I’d be executed for being a Christian. I wouldn’t even get a chance to think about not being allowed to drive a car as a woman.

Setting matters.

It’s more than just the place where your story happens. I like to think of setting as context. Context is more dimensional. It affects everything in a character’s life.

Saudi Arabia a bit extreme?

What if I moved my life to Texas? I’d still have the same freedoms I do in Wyoming, but I couldn’t hike mountains, snowshoe, or even be outside 90% of the year. Heat is unbearable for me. My health would be impacted, and I would not function as much. Oh, and tornados!

And spiders the size of tour busses.

Geographic locations in the same country make a difference on a person’s life story. The Wizard of OZ, wouldn’t have worked if set in Pennsylvania. John Wayne movies wouldn’t work in Maine. Dr.Who would not have the same appeal if the characters were based out of North Dakota rather than London.

Take a few moments and reflect on why. What is your favorite movie or story? Put it in a different setting. Would it work?

I don’t want to hijack Kim’s post to follow on making setting a character, but let me make this point (which she will drive home with force) – you want your setting to be so strong, your story CANNOT work anywhere else. Period. Dot. End of discussion.

Let’s back it up a bit. Why is setting important?


Where you live, shapes who you are. A Yankee? A Southerner? East Coast? West Coast? Canada? Missionary Kid?

Where you place your characters affects who they are. Cultural and environmental elements impact daily life. Tornado alley? Hurricanes? Wildfires? Volcanos? Beach life? Riverside?

I am from Northeastern Pennsylvania. If an event starts at seven, most people are there by 6:45. They are on time. They are not early. Fifteen minutes early is on time. Those arriving at 7 are considered late, and rude.

In the west, NO ONE shows up fifteen minutes prior to anything—trust me.  People start showing up at 7. Some even arrive at 8 and no one blinks an eye. This drives me nuts. When I say 7, I expect 6:45, or you are rude. Even after 20+ years of living in the west, I. Can’t. Get. Over. This.

To Northeastern me, timeliness is respect.

Do you see how my context of origin creates conflict in my current setting?

If someone gets lost in the woods in New Jersey, they won’t be lost long. They’ll stumble upon a road or other people. Black bears are dangerous, but they don’t eat people.

If someone gets lost in Wyoming, well, you won’t stumble upon a road or other people any time soon, and we have black bears and grizzly bears. Grizzly bears eat people. And, it may be 90 on a hot summer day, but it’s dry and water sources are sketchy. At night, it may drop into the 40s and 50s which causes hypothermia. Getting lost in Wyoming is more dangerous from a climate/geography/ecological perspective.

However, in Jersey, you may get shot by a mobster!

And let’s not forget this: beauty. Who doesn’t want to write about a place of beauty? Kim sets her books in Alaska. Denali. Come on. Biggest mountain in North America. Fireweed. Her setting is captivating. Becca set some of her novellas in the Pacific Northwest. Nostalgic. Beautiful. My books, SPIN and TOSS are set in contemporary Metro Denver. A far cry from the aforementioned’s historic settings.

I’m currently reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It takes place in Mississippi in the 1960s. Her story would NOT work in New Hampshire. The political scene in the south was different from that of the north at that time. She had to set her story where she did.

And so do you.

What is the optimal setting for your story? What about the setting affects character development and plot? Why do you believe your setting is the optimal place for the events of your story to unfold? What is ONE thing that comes from the setting that makes all the difference to your plot?

With pen to paper,




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