Setting is an essential element component in fiction writing, whether a novel or a short story. It’s generally indicated early in a novel or short story and usually developed through narrative description, but there are other means as well. The details of setting help to make the reader accept the reality of the work.
Here are some suggestions for creating a viable setting:
One: Choose a place you know something about. Maybe you’ve lived there. Maybe you only visited. But it helps if the writer has some sort of association because the place must have an aura of reality to be believable. My Kim Reynolds mysteries are set in Central New Jersey because that’s where I lived for most of my life. The township in BLOOD FAMILY, for example, is based closely on the one I actually lived in.
Two: If you are using an historical setting, make certain to do considerable research so that your background descriptions are historically accurate. Consider: how did people dress? How did they travel? What did they eat? What were the social, religious and political conventions and ideas of the period? How did people talk? Conversation and vocabulary differ in different time periods. Also, check timelines to make certain you don’t have important events occurring in a wrong year.
My published historical romance novels were carefully researched. For example, HIGHLAND HEART is set in Georgian England and Scotland at the time of the uprising in the Highlands in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
SINFUL SEDUCTION is set during the American Revolution in New Jersey. Since I am a life-long NJ resident, I find this time period fascinating and enjoyed doing the research—NJ was described as the cockpit of the Revolution because so many battles were fought here.
I read fiction and nonfiction written in the time periods as well as numerous historical accounts before I began to write the novels. This was something I enjoyed doing since I have degrees in English and history and taught English at both the high school and university levels.
Four: Consider the weather or climate as a component in setting. For example, winter weather works well for a murder mystery novel. Snow and winter can be used to symbolize death. In my novella THE BURNING, environmental concerns nearly destroy the lives of the family members who are the main characters. The setting is a key, essential element of the plot.
Weather helps to create tone, mood and atmosphere. For instance, a paranormal novel might be dark and foreboding. Thunder and lightening can create tension. Poe is a great one to study in this regard.
Five: Sense impressions are important in the narrative description of the setting. You need them to create a sense of reality. As they say, the devil is in the details. But balance is needed as well. Writers can overload their writing with too much detail or info dumping. Even some famous authors are guilty of that. Setting details may also be part of characterization, existing in dialogue, action and a character’s thoughts.
Your thoughts and opinions welcome here.