The Setting of a Story

Some people read a story because of the illustration on the cover.  Some read it and enjoy it because it has deep characters and interesting social interaction.  Some will pick up a story because someone who is “famous” suggested it.

None of these people are me.

When I read a story, what grabs my attention first and foremost is the setting.

I don’t just mean the “place” either. For me, setting is not only the “where?” but the “what is going on?”.  The situation that everyone in the story lives in.  Mundane settings can get my attention, if I know the book is going to thrust the characters into a situation that causes me to suspend disbelief on some level, but the books that draw me back to read and reread are always the ones that have a lifelike world that is interesting, a foundation off of which stories can be written that are, if nothing else, interesting.

When it comes to writing, though, setting is almost the bane of my existence.

When I come up with a story idea, I always have to figure out the setting first, and that can take seemingly forever.  I want to know everything I can know about the place and time and happenings of the universe I want my story to grow in.  Thus, I end up working on an almost encyclopedic knowledge of this place, trying to grasp at everything from daily life to the political situation to understood science.

The problem:  in doing this, I sometimes lose sight of my story.

You would not believe the number of great stories that I have had meander through my mind which have had this happen.  The adventures of galactic travelers-lost in trying to work out a universe for them to travel through.  A man going insane-lost in trying to define the city and state where it all goes wrong for him.  A band of thieves, castoffs from their own society, that happen on a small planet inhabited by a people on the cusp of gaining the stars themselves-lost to the definition of their own culture and the things which might drive a million year old civilization.  The list goes on.

I keep trying to figure out what it is I should do to get the story out, perhaps keeping the “history of the universe” fluid and only in my mind, something that I can edit as needed to make things occur in the story.  Perhaps I should do as some others have, and pick a setting, flesh it out and thoroughly develop it before trying to write a story at all.

I guess we’ll see what happens.  On the one hand, I always enjoy writing stories with the internal thought of,”What if?  What then?”, but I need a place for it to happen, you know?  It’s hard to write a story that makes sense that basically looks like this:

hansel and gretel basic


Filed under Creative ideas, Literature, Things I like, Thoughts

3 responses to “The Setting of a Story

  1. I enjoyed reading your posts. Thank you for taking the time to write. As the reader above I found this post through the “I am not bipolar” one. I still have not understood whether I also have bipolarism and I am quite convinced that my mum has it too. She definitely goes out of control at times, I do too meaning that sometimes I get so inspired and start to have so many great ideas, make connection with things I heard or seen, people I met, then I start to look for more information on internet and can continue for hours and days until I am completely out of balance. During those times I find very difficult to sleep, my thoughts “are racing”, citing you. I can forget to eat and shower and go to the toilet for a whole day (of course I feel hungry or I feel the need to go to the toilet, but I am so concentrated on what I am doing-mainly on the computer that I keep postponing all my necessities until I get exhausted). As I told you, I do not know if having periods like this every 2-3 months means having bipolar disease. I have also felt depressed sometimes, not finding the will to get up from my bed as I was stuck with my work (PhD), then found out that the only activity that would help me getting up and doing something was BAKING. Yes, instead of staying in bed feeling miserable and fearing the world I stood up and started to bake bread and cakes for my flatmates and that gave me a lot of satisfaction. So now I pulled myself together, I have about 9 months to write and defend my PhD thesis and then I will be free to do what I want: open a bakery 🙂


  2. Setting the scene is often overlooked by writers. I think in your post ‘something dark’ you have found a good balance between creating visual imagery and leaving gaps in the scene for the reader to fill. I really enjoyed that post.
    I also liked your description here of how you want an encyclopaedic knowledge of the scene and sometimes lose sight of the story. I see this laser beam focus in my husband as he delves into the detail when studying. I found your blog through your freshly pressed Bipolar post (congrats!) As a support person I never considered that there were people out there blogging on the topic. Thank you for visiting my blog and for your kind comment. will follow 🙂

    • Thank you. It helps to have descriptive comments, it lets me know better what I’m doing right and what I need to work on. I’m trying to learn to “skim” a scene, as I think about it. Enough details to get a picture, sometimes enough details to put a spotlight on something, but enough generalities to leave a lot to the imagination.


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