How Important is Setting to You?

Day 19 – “S” Setting

How important is setting? To me, it is one of the most important parts of the writing process. I have touched base on various elements of my writing process including character development and outlining, but the development and manifestation of places is easily one of my favorite steps. I am drawn to the concept of setting; to the idea that a house, a village, a room can have such a strong pull on a character and can serve as a critical component in the development of a story. 

For example, both of the two novels I’m working are centered around a place of great importance to the characters. In my contemporary piece, it is the main character’s family cabin that she is renovating (a metaphor for her attempts to rebuild the toxic relationship she has with her mother). In my historic fiction piece, it is a large Creole-style cottage set in the bayous of Louisiana that has been a central point for the characters both in the past and present, the purpose of the residence having evolved over time.

These settings, these places, all have such a strong presence that they are almost characters themselves. I spend a great amount of time developing setting. Part of this development is research, part of it is extensive outlining and planning; mapping out floor plans, printing out photos of inspirational homes I’ve found, and describing the property, the rooms, and the décor in incredible detail.

How important is setting to you? Do you create a special place for your characters that is such an important part of the storyline that the setting is almost a character in and of itself, or do you focus more on other components (character development, dialogue, etc.)?


25 thoughts on “How Important is Setting to You?

  1. This is a very helpful discussion about the importance of “place.” I don’t deliberately write fiction, although admittedly, despite research to assure accuracy, my works of nonfiction about the past are often the best I can remember and my best guess. Details about changing geographic settings can provide a firmer foundation for recall (and guesses) and are also a crucial part of the story.

    1. Those details are so important though! Description of place and setting in nonfiction is just as important as it is in fiction, in my opinion. Rather than creating the perfect ambiance for your scene, you’re working at accurately describing surroundings, geographical settings, etc. Great feedback on an alternative point of view/perspective for a different type of writing as it pertains to place and setting!! 🙂

  2. Setting is extremely important. I believe it to be another character. I usually do mood boards for my settings.
    I love researching place for my novels/stories. I haven’t yet gone so far as to set one someplace I haven’t been. I guess Google Street View can help even when we haven’t been somewhere.

    1. GoogleEarth is one of my favorite tools for setting. I was just talking about this. I’ve logged on in the afternoon to see how the sun was hitting a specific building so I knew whether or not my character would be blinded by the setting sun as they left. The reader may not even notice, be we do and if they didn’t, then we did the setting well. 🙂

  3. I prefer to leave a setting as vague as possible. When I read, “an old abandoned home” I get a picture in my mind and I assume others do as well. Maybe it is important to note that the home has a large picture window because it will play a part in the story, perhaps the new owned of this home will spend countless hours staring out of it. But if the features aren’t important to the story, I prefer to let the reader’s imagination build the setting.

  4. Setting is extremely important to me, since I’m a fantasy writer. I spend as much time world-building and researching setting as I do on the characters or the dialogue. It’s the way readers can be immersed, and it’s my favorite part of writing!

  5. I agree with Ula, setting is another character in your story and deserves as much input as any main character in it’s development. I’ve recently been struggling to move a story forward because I can’t get hold of the setting fully!

    1. I’m so happy to see that other writers view setting as equally important as another character with regards to development. Good luck with the development of setting in your story!

  6. Sometimes I like to keep the setting vague – so perhaps anyone could identify it as close to where they live, other times, I like the detail of describing a place which I know personally. I think it depends on how the characters interact with their surroundings and what the reader wants to see.

    1. Oh I like that concept, keeping it vague to let the reader interpret/tailor it to fit themselves. I agree that it depends on a number of factors, each piece of writing, each set of characters differs.

  7. Looks like everyone is of the same mindset on setting. I’ve gone so far as to work up a house diagram with furniture and everything. My second book was set in a home being turned into a B&B. I x’d out walls that were torn down and drew in the new ones. That way my characters wouldn’t be trying to walk where they shouldn’t be. For the historical, I found maps from the time the story is set. It’s a huge help because the streets I walked on and the house where we stayed were fields overlooking the ocean 236 years ago. Makes a huge difference in how I move the characters through their setting. Great post.

  8. I write mostly fantasy / sci-fi stuff, so I do a lot of world-building, which requires a good bit of setting. But I find myself drawn to stories that jump right into action, so I try to let setting be an important, but subtle part of my writing. I figure I’ve succeeded if the reader doesn’t remember me describing anything in intense detail, but yet can easily describe any given location within the story, whether because I planted the idea or they used their imagination, it doesn’t matter, just so long it comes across.

  9. Firstly, I’m into my characters and dialogue and secondly, into how they interact with their environment. Anything I write about the settings has to be through the eyes of a character and never description for the sake of description. I like to take a wide brushstroke approach, from which I occasionally zoom in for close detail.

  10. Setting is extremely important to me – that’s often how a story begins, I see the setting first and then the character in that setting. I love to read stories set in atmospheric places and I feel a strong connection to place in life.

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