The Setting Should Be Integral to the Story

Characters interact with the setting as much as they do with the plot and other characters. In fact, setting can be used as another character, one that is implacable and without reason. Like a character, the setting can have scars, weaknesses, moods, even a personality.

The setting should be integral to the story. It needs to be more than a backdrop for or an introduction to the events. A static description adds nothing to the story’s purpose. The setting should not be any old place, but a unique place that has meaning for the character. Setting can work for or against the character, but either way, it must be dynamic, otherwise it’s just filling space.

Setting can create a mood. It can suggest the character’s motives. It can predestine character in the same way we are all creatures of our environment. A person who grew up in the shadow of mountains is different from someone born by the sea. A child living in a mansion is different from a child of the streets.

Setting can help move plot along. Whenever things slow down, the introduction of a real or perceived change in the setting can deepen the character’s conflicts. Maybe the character sees things he never noticed before; maybe those familiar things now seem menacing. Or perhaps the weather can take a disastrous turn.

Every description of a place should have a memorable quality that hints at the story’s meaning. In Story, Robert McKee wrote, “The irony of setting vs. story is this: the larger the world, the more diluted the knowledge of the writer, therefore the fewer his creative choices and the more clichéd the story. The smaller the world, the more complete the knowledge of the writer, therefore the greater his creative choices. Result: an original story without clichés.”

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4 Responses to “The Setting Should Be Integral to the Story”

  1. leafless Says:

    Some really nice tips.

  2. elizaw Says:

    I completely agree.

    In fact, if it is possible, setting can be introduced several different times to produce difference results. A building where a character was badly embarrassed (even if it wasn’t ultimately important to the plot) has connotations for the audience afterward. Putting something of importance in the same place greatly alters the mood of the encounter. The decor of a safe place can make the dominant color comforting, and off-set an otherwise sinister area. Setting can be a fantastic way to set up your own connotations.

  3. Bertram Says:

    Leafless: Thank you.

  4. Bertram Says:

    Elizaw: I like your ideas. Those are good ways of making the setting important and integral to the plot.

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