Friday, Feb 14, 2014

(Craft) How Important Is Setting to Your Story?

Setting is to story what a foundation is to a house. I love what author Nina Munteanu wrote about setting: “Setting grounds your writing in the reality of place and depicts the theme of your story through powerful metaphor.”  Just as the foundation grounds a house “in the reality of place,” so does setting ground your story in its own “reality of place.”

Setting is intimately connected with every aspect of your story: with characterization, with plot, and even with theme.  For example, my forthcoming novel, A Sicilian Conspiracy, is set in 19th-century Sicily during a time when the society was patriarchal and riddled with codes of honor detrimental to women. In my story, setting plays a key role not only in my protagonist’s character arc, but also in the outcome of the plot.

What exactly is setting? According to Munteanu, “Setting includes time, place and circumstance. These three form a kind of critical mass that creates the particular setting best suited to your story. If you change any of these it will affect the quality of the others.” In A Sicilian Conspiracy, the time period is Sicily in 1892. The place is a tiny village near the southwestern coast of Sicily. The circumstance centers on a young woman raped and pregnant by her parish priest.  If I were to change any one of these three elements–time, place, or circumstance–the change would affect the entire story.

As you plan your story, think carefully about its setting, especially if you are writing science fiction or fantasy in which you must create a previously non-existent story world.  Then consider the impact of your setting on your characters, your plot, and your theme. Considering your setting with its ramifications will help you to create a more richly layered story, one that your readers will not forget.

Source cited: “Importance of Setting in a Novel” by Nina Munteanu.


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