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        What Is the Setting of a Story? Meaning + 7 Expert Tips

        • calenderNov 28, 2023
        • calender 7 min read

        From Wonderland in Alice in Wonderland to Hogwarts Castle, settings have charmed readers with their magic. A well-crafted setting intrigues readers and establishes a connection to the story. In this article, we’ll understand what does setting mean in a story with amazing examples from literature. 

        Perfect your setting with our story editing services!

        We’ve also provided practical tips to create the best story setting. So without further delay, let’s begin! 

        What is the setting of a story? 

        A setting is the geographical location and the time when the story takes place. It can also include the weather, historical, and political aspects of the location. The setting can be imaginary or realistic. 

        Following are some of the different types of settings: 

        • Social setting- Social setting refers to the customs, traditions, beliefs, and social structure of the location. 
        • Emotional setting- Emotional setting means the mood and atmosphere created by the setting. 
        • Symbolic setting-  Symbolic setting is when the setting reflects abstract concepts and has a greater thematic significance. The island in William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies can be considered a symbolic setting, representing various themes like isolation, freedom, chaos, and loss of innocence. 

        To understand what is the setting of a story, let’s see 3 phenomenal examples of book settings!

        Top 3 story setting examples from literary works 

        1. Hogwarts Castle in the Harry Potter series 

        “Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place. It was lit by thousands and thousands of candles which were floating in mid-air over four long tables,   where the rest of the students were sitting. These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets. At the top of the Hall was another long table where the teachers were sitting. Professor McGonagall led the first-years up here, so that they came to a   halt in a line facing the other students, with the teachers behind them. The hundreds of faces staring at them looked like pale lanterns in the flickering candlelight.” 

        2. Wonderland in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll

        “Suddenly, she came upon a three-legged table, all made of solid glass;  there was nothing on it except a tiny golden key, and Alice’s first thought was that it might not belong to one of the doors on the hall; but, alas! either the locks were too large, or the key was too small, but at any rate, it would not open any of them. However, on the second time round, she came upon a low curtain she had not noticed before, and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high: she tried the little golden key in the lock, and to her great delight, it fitted! Alice opened the door and found that it led to a small passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw.” 

        3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte 

        “On the morrow, one could hardly imagine that there had been three weeks of summer: the primroses and crocuses were hidden under wintry drifts; the larks were silent, the young leaves of the early trees smitten and blackened. And dreary, and chill, and dismal, that morrow did creep over! My master kept his room; I took possession of the lonely parlour, converting it into a nursery: and there I was, sitting with the moaning doll of a child laid on my knee; rocking it to and fro, and watching, meanwhile, the still driving flakes build up the uncurtained window, when the door opened, and some person entered, out of breath and laughing!” 

        The above story setting examples clearly demonstrate what is the setting in a story. Dive in to learn about 7 amazing tips to create a memorable setting for your story! 

        7 practical tips to craft the perfect setting for your story 

        1. Use literary devices to create engaging settings 

        Literary devices draw readers into the world of your characters, helping them visualize the setting. They not only create an atmosphere and tone for the story but also depict emotions related to the setting. Some of the popular literary devices which you can use while creating a setting are: 

        • Simile- A simile is the comparison of two ideas using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’. The line, “The stars scattered across the sky like diamonds on black velvet” from The Great Gatsby is an example of a simile.
        • Personification- Personification involves giving human characteristics to non-living entities. In Life of Pi the line, “The moon danced across the water, casting shimmering reflections” is an example of personification. 
        • Symbolism- Symbolism involves using words to represent broader ideas, concepts, and meanings. The line, “The lighthouse stood tall on the cliff, symbolizing guidance and hope in the midst of darkness” from the novel To the Lighthouse reflects symbolism. 
        •  Juxtaposition- Juxtaposition means placing two completely different, contrasting ideas next to each other. The line, “The opulent palace overlooked the impoverished village, highlighting the divide between wealth and poverty” from A Song of Ice and Fire series illustrates juxtaposition. 
        • Onomatopoeia- Onomatopoeia is the use of words representing sounds to create an effect. The line, “The fire crackled and popped, sending sparks dancing into the night” from The Lord of the Flies is an example of onomatopoeia. 

        2. Show, don’t tell 

        This technique involves demonstrating actions, motives, moods, and scenes through vivid language instead of directly stating them. Effectively implementing this technique helps readers connect with the setting and enhances their experience. Here is an example of this principle in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson: 

        “I seated myself in his armchair and warmed my hands before his crackling fire, for a sharp frost had set in, and the windows were thick with the ice crystals.” 

        Instead of plainly stating that it was snowing and the room had an armchair and a fire, the sentence helps readers effectively visualize the scene. This helps readers to relate to the scene. 

        Following are some strategies you can effectively use to implement this technique: 

        • Use words to describe the tastes, sounds, smells, textures, and visuals related to the setting. 
        • Focus on revealing details like motives through the character’s actions instead of directly stating them. 
        • Include flashbacks to disclose the character’s backstory and add depth to the character. 
        • Describe the character’s body language and posture to reveal what the character is feeling and their attitude. 
        • Depict the character’s inner struggle and conflict by using internal monologue. 

        3. Use different punctuations and varied sentence structure 

        Using a variety of punctuation and a mix of long and short sentences makes the setting description refreshing to read. Here is an example from C.S Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe

        The castle of Cair Paravel on its little hill towered up above them;  before them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and seaweed, and The smell of the sea and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking forever and ever on the beach. And oh, the cry of the seagulls! Have you heard it? Can you remember?

        In the above example, the use of different punctuation and the combination of long and short sentences makes the description attractive to read.

        4. Take inspiration from movies 

        This is an effective technique, especially if you are writing realistic, historical fiction stories. For example, if your setting is about the 19th century, see a movie that was released in the 19th century, similar to the genre you are writing about. Observe details such as the clothing, traditions, and language in the movie. This will help you to imagine and create a memorable setting for your story. 

        5. Describe the climate to reflect the story’s atmosphere 

        While a serene climate in a setting can indicate peace, a stormy climate can depict danger and conflict. Here are some examples of how you can use climate in the setting in a story: 

        • Fog- This element can be used to depict uncertainty, and mystery and create a sense of foreboding.For example: 

        I have said that over the great Grimpen Mire there hung a dense, white fog. It was drifting slowly in our direction and banked itself up like a wall on that side of us, low but thick and well-defined. The moon shone on it, and it looked like a great shimmering ice field, with the heads of the distant tors as rocks borne upon its surface.” 

        –  The Hound of the Baskervilles  by Arthur Conan Doyle 

        • Sunlight- Sunlight can be described as signifying hope, warmth, nostalgia, and closure after a life-changing event. For example: 

        “Holden Caulfield found solace in the warmth of the sunlight filtering through the museum windows, offering a momentary escape and a glimmer of hope.”

        –  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger 

        Here, the sunlight symbolizes hope. 

        • Rain and storms- These elements can be added to the setting to show chaos, conflict, turbulence, passion, and danger. Let’s see an example of how the storm is described in the setting of a story. 

        The tempest roared and the sea raged, echoing Ahab’s inner turmoil.”

        –  Moby Dick by Herman Melville 

        Here, the tempest reflects Captain Ahab’s inner conflict. 

        • Snow- This element can be used to show beauty, isolation, peace, and resilience in a setting. 

        “The snow-covered landscape, desolate and unforgiving, mirrored the father and son’s unwavering determination to survive in a harsh post-apocalyptic world.”

        –  The Road by Cormac McCarthy 

        Here, the description of the snow symbolizes isolation and the father-son duo’s resilience amidst harsh reality. 

        6. Visit the place you want to write about 

        You can visit the place and note down all the details you want in the setting in a story.  You can also ask a local guide to know more about the history and culture of the place. This will help you to understand which details will help you enhance your setting. 

        7. Write in fragments to focus on specific concepts and theme

        This is a good strategy to draw the reader’s attention to a particular theme or concept in the story. Here is an example from George Orwell’s famous novel 1984: 

        It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 meters into the air. From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party: 

        WAR IS PEACE  



        The above description is of the Ministry of Truth in 1984. In this example, the lines referring to freedom, war, and ignorance are written in fragments to focus on the objectives of the totalitarian party. 

        8. Bonus section: additional tips to create the perfect setting! 

        • Use Google Streetview’s app to decide the names of streets and ideal location details. 
        • To create a fantasy setting, you can use Story Shack’s map generator. Story Shack is one of the top writing prompt generators
        • Create a setting that reflects the character’s state of mind. For example, scattered objects in a house can reflect a person’s chaotic state of mind. 
        • Use contrasts between opposing ideas within the setting to create intrigue. The best example of this can be seen in Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities. Here is an example: 

        “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

        In the above example, the contrast between opposing ideas like best and worst, light and darkness makes the description engaging. 

        While these tips might have set the wheels of your mind churning, this is not enough. You need to note down details that can play a vital role in your setting. Dive in to learn more about five simple but effective exercises to create the perfect setting! 

        Top 5 exercises to craft an unforgettable setting 

        1. Jot down a list of incomplete sentences 

        This involves writing down the first part of the sentence and finding creative options for the last part of the sentence. You can also use a thesaurus to find engaging phrases and words to come up with the sentence. 

        Here are creative options for the last part of the incomplete sentence: The room was…

        • The room was dark and filled with stuffiness that reminded one of the 54-year-old vet who had passed away in that room. 
        • The room’s yellow wallpaper was not only a symbol of creativity but a reminder of John’s painful death. 

        Writing 3-4 alternatives for every incomplete sentence will help you to create your perfect setting. 

        2. Create a mind-map 

        Drawing a mindmap of various aspects of the setting can help you describe the setting accurately. Starting with the physical features of the setting, you can create branches describing the weather, climate, culture, history, and sensory details. 

        3. Give yourself a creative paragraph writing challenge 

        This involves dividing aspects of the setting into various categories like culture, architecture, food, nature, history, and climate and describing every aspect in a 5-10 sentence paragraph. Here are some strategies to make it more challenging for you and boost creativity: 

        • Decide a specific word count for the challenge. 
        • Use at least one literary device while writing the paragraph.
        • Use more than one punctuation and a variety of sentence structures (short and long sentences). 
        • Instead of following the normal Subject + Verb+ Object sentence structure, include sentences that divert from the structure. 

        4. Use setting generators to spark your creativity 

        A simple strategy is to generate settings and choose phrases related to those settings to create setting descriptions. Springhole, RanGen, Seventh Sanctum, Hiveword, and Writing Exercises are some examples of well-known setting generators

        5. Conduct character interviews

        This method involves creating a list of questions and answering them from the character’s point of view. A strategy is to form questions related to all five senses (seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, and hearing). This will help you to describe all these five senses in your setting. Let’s assume the name of the main protagonist is Anna. Here are examples of some questions you can formulate: 

        • How does the setting play an important role in Anna’s life? 
        • How does Anna feel about the setting? Is she happy or does she feel discomfort due to the setting? 
        • What details about the setting does Anna remember the most? 
        • What are the cultural, social, and historical aspects of the setting which affect Anna? 
        • How does Anna react to the setting? Does she try to run away from the setting or does she attempt to adjust in the setting? 
        • Does the setting reflect hope, closure, sadness, or pain for Anna towards the end of the novel? 
        • What does Anna find unique about the setting? 
        • In the setting, what does Anna see, taste, smell, touch, or hear? 

        You can also maintain a journal where you describe your character’s interactions with your setting. 

        Now that you know what is a setting of a story, you can use the exercises to create a memorable setting. Don’t hesitate to jot down all the details for the perfect setting. Once you’ve created your setting and completed your story, the next step is to edit your story. As providers of editing and proofreading services, we’d love to help you perfect your story! 

        Here are some other resources to take your storytelling to the next level: 

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        Priya Linkedin

        Priya has a talent for academic research and enjoys simplifying complex topics. When she's not helping students improve their writing, she can be seen reading poetry, playing the harmonium, or learning classical dance.

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