It goes without saying that writers’ websites and online resources are essential to the ongoing education of an author. I spend countless hours every month perusing my favorites in search of pearls of wisdom from fellow scribes. Many posts focus on the cornerstones of writing, namely, characters, plot and story. There is also no shortage of blogs and articles to draw your attention to even broader and grander topics, with headlines such as “How to Know When You’re Done Editing,” or “Good Writing vs. Bad Writing.”
Despite the plethora of writing advice circulating online, one particular chunk of storycraft manages to escape attention, to avoid serious discussion: setting.
You just don’t see too many posts dedicated to setting. Rather, this red-headed stepchild of storycraft has evaded serious focus from writing instructors and would-be gurus. In the few cases where setting is mentioned or analyzed, it is done so passively, with little effort given to bolstering its importance.
Due to this communal negligence, many authors overlook setting. Sure, they have settings in their books and novels. After all, what writer will hesitate to tell you where and when their story takes place?
But as a writer, is it enough to know where and when? Or to put it another way, why does a story take place where and when it does? How important is that particular setting to the story?
The importance of setting has come to the forefront of my mind as I think about the impact of choosing the right place for where and when my next story occurs. It is not an issue I take lightly. For experience has taught me that settings, much like characters, have to be cultivated and developed, that they must have a rich backstory and personality all their own.
Consider this example: a writer is crafting a scene, one that takes place in a forest. She could do the bare minimum by writing that her characters admired the green needles of the trees, that the protagonist soaked up the late afternoon sun, etc. Or she could give the setting an extra measure of attention by treating it as a character, a catalyst that provokes reaction and emotion. She could say that in response to the cries of the main character, the wind picked up, thereby bending the branches back from the one crying. Or she could add that the solemn silence her protagonist experienced amongst the tall, dark green guardians of the forest gave her pause and calmed her nerves.
There are many such opportunities for setting to provide a rich layer of context to the mood you are trying to convey, the voice you are striving to develop. Locations and times of the past define our sense of nostalgia or our feelings of regret. The places of the present have the potential to lift or sour our current moods. Those of the future can inspire calm – such as when dreaming about a beach vacation – or dread – such as a green recruit thinking about an upcoming deployment – and every sensation in between.
Whatever the motif or intention of your narrative, a well-developed setting can fortify your writing. Think not of it as an additional exercise in your writing checklist, but as an opportunity to enhance and enrich the trajectory of experience for your characters . . . and your readers. Do not just mention your setting within your story. Embrace it. Weave it in wherever you can. Most importantly, have fun writing about it. Like me, you will be surprised what having a new perspective on setting can do for your narrative.
Josh Rutherford is the author of Sons of Chenia, his debut fantasy novel. He is currently penning his second and third novels, both due out within the next year. For more information on his writings, please visit his social media handles: