Your Story Needs Context

Set·ting [set-ing]


1. The surroundings or environment of anything.

2. The locale or period in which the action of a novel, play, film, etc., takes place.


Settings are important for any piece, whether it’s a play, a novel or a movie script. The setting is what gives the story a backdrop. It’s extremely important as without a setting it’s almost like the story has no context. For example, Les Miserables would not have been the same if it was set in modern day Canada. So what makes a setting?

“The devil is in the details” is a fitting description for settings: if your description of the surroundings is not enough to give a clear picture of timing, colors, temperature or what have you then you haven’t described it enough. It doesn’t all need to be a big lumpy, dragging paragraph of description, but details like whether the weather is outstandingly hot or cold, especially if it affects the characters in this environment, is particularly useful. You want the audience to almost feel it too. If it’s a deadly rumbling storm in your novel, you want your reader to look up to grab their drink and be surprised by the beautiful sunshine pouring through the window.

Does the setting lend its own unique flavor to the story? Would your story be different if it was set somewhere else? Would it influence your characters if they were in a different time period? King Arthur, for example, would have a different story if he was in another time and place. Culture influences a lot of stories: anything with a revolution, any apocalyptic novels or shows: if the characters were lifted from their settings, their story would likely be very different.

Does the audience assume that there is more to the world beyond what is shown in the movie, novel, play, etc.? If they can’t imagine what is past the borders of where ever your characters are playing out their plot, then your setting isn’t complete. They need to know what the whole world looks like, whether or not the characters are using it presently or not. If it’s undiscovered then say so. If they are in rural country compared to the rest of the world the audience has the right to know, so it gives more context to the world.

I will push this point again and again, just because I want to make sure it’s ingrained in your very soul: if the setting does not relate to the story or affect the characters at all, your story does not have the required depth. The environment should help to form the story into a whole, complete tale. Every story deserves to be told and told well. So take the time to describe how humid it is, whether the character resides in an arid or tropical climate. Let me know if the weather is normal for that place or if it’s abnormal. Let the readers know what time period you’re playing in, as a pair of steampunk goggles looks terribly misplaced if it’s not in a specific setting.


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