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Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Select Story Settings: The 4 Fundamental Kinds of Setting

Past mere backdrop, story settings are what enable authors to orchestrate significant connections amongst characters. Settings ought to function extra than simply surroundings. They need to present characters with compelling causes to share the stage with each other. Undertaking this in a narrative requires understanding easy methods to strategically select story settings as assembly grounds that amplify character interactions and deepen the resonance of the narrative.

When writers select story settings, they don’t at all times take into consideration why they’re selecting particular settings. You would possibly select a specific setting for plenty of causes:

  • It looks like the obvious or handy option to facilitate a scene’s plot occasions (e.g., a diner as a spot to satisfy locals).
  • It’s an fascinating or distinctive locale that appears enjoyable to discover (e.g., an area station).
  • It appears symbolically resonant to the scene’s thematic content material (e.g., a graveyard).

Generally settings come pre-packaged with sure genres (e.g., expansive worlds in fantasy or the halls of Congress or the White Home in political dramas) or sure tropes (e.g., excessive colleges in YA romances or well-known world landmarks in worldwide spy thrillers). Generally the setting would be the whole level of the premise (e.g., a burning skyscraper in The Towering Inferno or a Russian sub in The Hunt for Crimson October). Different instances, settings are retrofitted right into a story based mostly on the wants of the plot (e.g., a claustrophobic setting is required for a climactic encounter between protagonist and antagonist).

The Hunt for Crimson October (1990), Paramount Photos.

Though these are reliable components, none get on the coronary heart of some of the necessary metrics for a way to decide on story settings. That metric is solely: determining which settings will facilitate plot occasions that hold readers riveted.

At first look, authors may be tempted to assume one of the simplest ways to rivet readers with setting is solely to decide on one thing flashy and distinctive. However right here’s the factor: flashy and distinctive settings gained’t matter to readers in any respect if those self same settings don’t give them what they’re actually right here for. And what’s that? Merely, they got here for the story. They got here for the characters and for a way these characters act when put in sure conditions (aka, the plot).

However, once more, let’s drill deeper. In any case, you’ll be able to have characters doing every kind of plot stuff on the web page—operating round in thrilling settings, exploring, seeing new issues, capturing it out with the dangerous man, falling in love, all of it—and nonetheless not fulfill readers. Story (versus a string of scenes) is a improvement of character. Setting must facilitate that—both by changing into a catalytic “character in its personal proper” or by creating conditions that carry different characters collectively.

Briefly, one of many key concerns for a way to decide on story settings is whether or not these settings will promote necessary dynamics between characters.

The Common Rule of Thumb for Select Story Settings

In the end, my prime metric for a way to decide on story settings is solely logistics. Each time you maneuver characters right into a setting, you should ask the way it will have an effect on their proximity to different necessary characters. Nearer isn’t at all times higher (as we’ll discover within the subsequent part), however usually talking, in case your most fascinating characters should not sharing house for a lot of the story, you’re losing critical leisure alternatives.

I’ve learn and watched so many tales that have been legitimately nice in all different respects, however which didn’t entertain, typically for chapters or episodes on finish, as a result of the creator’s option to separate characters into completely different settings killed the chemistry and all the good things that goes with it. This consists of alternatives for dialogue, relational battle, and the integral plot improvement created by the mutuality of characters’ trigger and impact upon each other.

This put up was impressed after I began the second season of Amazon’s steampunk fantasy Carnival Row. Though it struggled a bit after the antag reveal towards the top, Season 1 was a delight—a uncommon fantasy present that not solely developed a singular and cohesive world however saved its plot tightly centered on its major characters. In it, the first setting of the Dickensian slum Carnival Row creates a milieu that retains crossing the paths of ill-fated lovers Philo, a human detective, and Vignette, a “pix” freedom fighter and refugee. Not solely does this setup enable the characters’ particular person plotlines to change into an increasing number of intertwined, it additionally ensures that the majority of their scenes supply viewers juicy interpersonal battle and improvement—which, in flip, interprets to greater stakes within the exterior plot.

Carnival Row (2019-23), Amazon Studios.

Season 2, sadly, instantly compromised itself by separating its two foremost characters. Though they now reside collectively, the plot is engineered to place the characters in separate settings from the start. This was clearly designed with the concept that the following part of the characters’ interpersonal improvement could be confronting their opposing objectives and strategies for saving Carnival Row. On its floor, this doesn’t seem to be a foul plan for the plot. However the sensible consequence is that the first dynamic that labored so nicely within the first season is completely upended within the second. In consequence, the connection merely isn’t as fascinating because it was within the first season. Thus the stakes aren’t as participating, the person plotlines fall comparatively flat, and the supporting characters who’re amped as much as attempt to treatment this may’t save the present.

Carnival Row (2019-23), Amazon Studios.

When selecting settings (and plot occasions, for that matter), it’s so necessary to look past the highest layer of what appears eye-catching or apparent. As an alternative, dig right down to the precise impact these selections may have on your complete story. Are you selecting settings that carry your characters collectively—or that power them aside? Are you selecting settings that create and improve your story’s most entertaining dynamics—or settings that generate scenes readers could, in truth, find yourself skimming or skipping?

We don’t at all times consider setting when questioning these elements of our tales, however we should always. Setting can supply super clues into how the story could or might not be creating its tightest and most participating potentialities.

The Logistics of Select Story Settings

Actually, all you should find out about how to decide on story settings that improve your plot’s potentialities is that you really want settings that create the cauldron into which all your story’s greatest particular person parts could be alchemized into an intriguing entire.

To go deeper with this, discover the underlying function of any setting in your story. On the floor, the aim of a setting would possibly appear to be one thing alongside the traces of “the place the primary homicide sufferer is found” or “the place the protagonist finds the surprising letter from her useless ex” or “the gasoline station the place the characters are robbed.” Deeper down, every of those situations creates a particular affect upon the characters and the evolution of their respective positioning within the story associated to all different characters. These logistics create dynamics, and dynamics create gripping fiction.

At present, let’s look at 4 varieties of setting. It’s fascinating (though definitely not vital) to acknowledge that every of those setting varieties is, in truth, inherent to the 4 sections of story construction (as represented by the Regular World, the Journey World, the Underworld, and the New Regular World). This doesn’t imply every of the next setting varieties must be utilized in order or solely in alignment with the 4 sections of story construction. Certainly, you’ll most likely combine and match a number of iterations of those setting varieties all through your story. However recognizing the affiliation of those major archetypes with the bigger sample of story can additional underline how every one features inside the mechanics of your plot.

1. Settings That Are Assembly Grounds

Any setting that falls into this class is a powerhouse of alternative in your story. Assembly Grounds are settings designed to carry characters collectively. This can be for an preliminary assembly, however it might additionally create a dynamic that brings characters collectively again and again, permitting the connection to evolve and develop with every new assembly.

The extra Assembly Floor settings you incorporate into your story (or the extra use you’re in a position to make of a single Assembly Floor), the extra alternative your story may have for scenes during which fascinating characters are compelled to come back collectively. Assembly Grounds supply an inherent sense of motion. They aren’t static areas, during which characters relaxation collectively, however areas during which they’re at all times coming and going.

Job locations are an apparent instance, as are colleges, during which characters don’t have any alternative however to see one another every single day. Different varieties of Assembly Locations could be eating places or bars.

For Instance: Casablanca‘s whole setting is one massive Assembly Floor, constructed round a plot during which characters use Casablanca basically and Rick’s Café particularly as a stopping-off level in an try to flee war-torn Europe and Africa. This then permits a particular premise during which protagonist Rick is compelled to reunite together with his misplaced love Ilsa, who’s determined to flee along with her freedom-fighter husband.

Casablanca 3

Casablanca (1942), Warner Bros.

*Assembly Floor symbolically aligns with the Regular World‘s operate of the First Act.

2. Settings That Are Shared Area

Shared Areas are these during which characters count on to be collectively. They might or could not need to be on this house, however they’re there as a result of it’s mutually useful. Shared Areas are designed to provide the alternative to maintain characters collectively lengthy sufficient to develop their interpersonal battle aside from any greater exterior battle.

Shared Areas should not so energetically dynamic and changeable as Assembly Grounds, however they provide the chance to go deep. They’re usually acceptable for the “sequel” half of scene construction, which focuses on character reactions. Any such setting could also be employed if you need to signify comparative peace inside a relationship dynamic. The characters may have the chance to come back collectively and be taught extra about one another, which deepens their bond and raises the stakes.

At its most optimistic, a Shared Area may be a house cohabited by a number of characters, someplace protected and welcoming, the place everybody enjoys being collectively. Extra negatively, a Shared Area may be a spot of refuge, the place disparate characters huddle collectively out of no different commonality than that of trauma and survival.

For Instance: In The Starvation Video games: Catching Fireplace and Mockingjay, protagonist Katniss finds herself sharing house with different Panem refugees, together with her mom and sister, within the rundown District 13. This setting creates the chance to develop characters and relationships that create the stakes for the exterior motion that occurs later within the enviornment.

The Starvation Video games: Mockingjay, Half 1 (2014), Lionsgate.

*Shared Area symbolically aligns with the “mates and allies” facet of the Journey World of the Second Act.

3. Settings That Are Shared Hazard

Equally fascinating and necessary are settings of Shared Hazard. Scenes of Shared Hazard create the framework in your heavy-lifting plot scenes, those who transfer the story ahead within the exterior battle. Shared Hazard needn’t at all times be bodily or dire. It merely represents conditions during which characters should flip outward to face exterior threats.

Characters who share these areas could also be both allies or enemies—both defending one another from exterior hazard or creating the hazard for each other. The necessary distinction right here is that the hazard is “shared.” This ensures exterior plot occasions are (normally) occurring in a approach that creates interpersonal stakes and battle amongst characters.

Battle and “hazard” could be launched into virtually any sort of setting. A house invasion would shortly remodel a Shared Area setting into certainly one of Shared Hazard. Nevertheless, it is usually attainable to engineer particular settings inside your story which might be designed to reinforce battle by choreographing characters into an area that’s both harmful in its personal proper or made extra so by the presence of antagonistic forces.

Battle zones, “catastrophe” settings (reminiscent of burning buildings and sinking ships), wilderness settings, and confined or cluttered settings can all be used to reinforce bodily hazard. In much less bodily tales, settings that emphasize Shared Hazard might be tension-filled workspaces or properties crammed with tough relations.

For Instance: An archetypal instance is the jail in Shawshank Redemption, which traps the protagonist and lots of others in a hellscape populated by manifold risks.

Shawshank Redemption Tim Robbins Andy Dufresne first day in prison

Shawshank Redemption (1994), Columbia Photos.

A extra prosaic instance could be the Westons’ household residence in August: Osage County, the place the three grown daughters should endure a reunion with their poisonous and unstable mom.

August: Osage County (2013), The Weinstein Firm.

*Shared Hazard symbolically aligns with the Underworld facet of the Third Act.

4. Settings That Are a Parting of the Methods

Settings that facilitate a Parting of the Methods needs to be used with warning. On the one hand, they afford the chance for deeply advanced and poignant scenes, as characters should at the very least briefly dissolve the dynamic they’ve created amongst themselves. Nevertheless, as a result of these settings additionally eventuate plots during which fascinating relational dynamics are eradicated from the story, they will negatively have an effect on the studying expertise until utilized with understanding and warning.

Parting of the Methods settings are the other of Assembly Grounds; they’re settings that divide characters from each other. Any sort of setting could be utilized to create this impact. Typically, the perfect Parting of the Methods setting for a specific story will probably be one that gives symbolic and private import to the characters. Extra clearly, airports and practice stations usually operate to separate characters from each other.

Parting of the Methods settings could also be launched right into a story in certainly one of two methods. The primary is that the creator intentionally chooses a setting and its inherent situation to separate characters for plot causes, The second is that the creator by the way chooses a Parting of the Methods setting that separates the characters for causes not required by the plot—after which drags readers via pointless scenes during which the parting should be performed out to fulfill trigger and impact.

Though an creator can legitimately select to separate characters for causes that don’t, in truth, advance the story, this situation is the one authors should be particularly cautious of when selecting settings. If any explicit setting or plot circumstance creates separation between characters who’ve an fascinating or necessary relationship dynamic, at all times step again and ask your self if that is actually serving the plot and the character improvement.

For Instance: In The Fellowship of the Ring, the Breaking of the Fellowship at Amon Hen is the place Frodo and Sam go away the others. This successfully splits the story, advancing three completely different plotlines from this level on. That is undeniably necessary for the general scope of the story. Nevertheless, the primary motive it really works is as a result of the first relationship dynamics are preserved—Frodo and Sam stay a unit; Pippin and Merry stay a unit; and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli stay a unit.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), New Line Cinema.

A generic damaging instance is one present in numerous different fantasy struggle tales, during which mates are separated to struggle on completely different fronts. That is normally performed for no different motive than to present the creator an excuse to discover completely different sides of the story. If it destroys the story’s central relationship dynamic—and particularly if it doesn’t exchange it with an equally significant relationship—it’s by no means definitely worth the expanded plot alternatives.

*Parting of the Methods symbolically aligns with the New Regular World of the Decision.


Writers usually choose settings based mostly on comfort, novelty, or thematic resonance, however the true measure of a setting’s effectiveness lies in its potential to reinforce the dynamics between characters. Inspecting these 4 setting varieties—Assembly Grounds, Shared Areas, Shared Hazard, and Parting of the Methods—reveals the nuanced position every performs in shaping character relationships. The strategic number of story settings hinges on crafting a story crucible the place each aspect harmoniously blends and readers are at all times given extra, slightly than much less, of what’s greatest about your story.

Wordplayers, inform me your opinions! What do you assume is an important consideration in how to decide on story settings? Inform me within the feedback!

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