In my early days of writing, I gave zero thought to setting. And it shows. Many of my early stories seem to take place with green screens behind my characters. At the time, I liked to think I wrote universal stories and that they would have more impact if I didn't give many details, if I just let the reader imagine the story unfolding in their place of residence.
I didn't yet understand that readers want to be transported.
I didn't yet understand that the setting of a story isn't just the time and place. If it were then if you asked me, "What's the setting of The Hunger Games?" it would be sufficient for me to say, "West Virginia, except they call it something different because it's set in an undetermined date in the future."
That's far from sufficient, isn't it?
That's because setting involves culture. Moods. Politics. Public opinion. Laws.
You should not be able to pick up your characters and your plot and easily move them to another location. If you can, you haven't taken full advantage of your setting.
For the fantasy or sci fi or historical writer, setting is often dictated by the story idea itself. If you want to write a book that takes place during the signing of the Declaration of Independence, already you've narrowed it down quite a bit - an east coast city in America in 1776.
But what about a contemporary writer? What if your books are set in the here and now? How do you pick a place?
The Skylar Hoyt books (my contemporary series) are set in Kansas City because that's where I went to high school. When I started them, I lived in Orlando, and I was out-of-my-mind homesick. But the Midwest setting dictated more than I had realized it would. Like I wanted Skylar to be uniquely beautiful. And uniquely beautiful in Kansas looks different than uniquely beautiful in other places. Which is how Skylar wound up Hawaiian.
|Kudos to the art team at Revell for picking the perfect model for Skylar!|
It's also a small(er) town than others I considered, and since the main character locks herself into a secret relationship, I wanted the book to have a slightly small-town claustrophobic feel to it.
Here's a check list of sorts that I've made for helping me think through the setting of contemporary ideas I'm composting : (Let's all bear in mind that so far my ideas all have teen girls for main characters.)
- Would this story work better in a city, a small town, or in the country?
- Where should this city be?
- Should I make up a city or can I use one that exists?
- How did my character come to live here? What do her parents do?
- How does she feel about where she lives? What does she like/dislike?
- Who's in charge of my character's world, or who does she perceive to be in charge? (I'm getting better at including "the man" in my manuscripts.)
- What kind of laws exist? (I'm not talking about Click it or Ticket. I mean, is there a lunch table she can't sit at or a boy who's off limits. Those laws that aren't stated anywhere but everyone knows.)
- What's are the socioeconomics of this place and where does she fall on the scale? (That's fancy for saying, "How wealthy is my character and how wealthy is everyone else?")
- Does this place of a general moral code and does my character agree or disagree with it?
Just asking/answering a few questions like that will prevent you from turning your setting into a mere time and place.
Have a question to add to the list? Leave it below!