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The Setting’s the Thing

Today, we challenge you to create a compelling setting for your story.

Photo by Pietro Zuco (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Ready to write? We’ll give you a new challenge each Monday. Publish a new post on your blog that interprets the challenge. Include a pingback and we’ll list your post below. Learn More

In the world of storytelling, setting refers to the time and place in which a story happens. For example, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist takes place in 19th century England. One of my all-time favorite novels, Caught, by Lisa Moore, takes place in 1970s Newfoundland. Where and when does your favorite novel unfold?

Droids? On the Farm?

Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable as art, if it took up its character and plot and happened somewhere else.
– Eudora Welty

Consider this: what if Charlotte’s Web was set in the future in a galaxy far far away as opposed to an idyllic farm? What if Star Wars‘ C-3PO and R2D2 were rolling about the Zuckerman farm in 1950s America trying to evade the Empire’s forces?

These might make for interesting variations, though the dissonance in these sample setting variations can make your head spin. Appropriate settings augment a story, conferring it with gravity, while inappropriate settings can simply confuse readers. Today, we challenge you to write a setting into the scene of your choice.

Sweat the details: creating a strong setting

There are two ways to participate in the challenge:

Write a new, original post based on any characters you wish, though the scene you share must include details that help the reader understand the setting: the precise time and place in which your scene happens. You can choose to write about current people and places, if you wish. As always, you’re welcome to adapt the challenge as you see fit or put your own twist on it. The goal is to get you writing.

Choose to write the setting into one of the scenes below, taking care to insert details that evoke the time and place in which the scene is set:

  • A man and his wife meet for lunch in a diner on August 5th, 1970, in New York City. She’s pregnant and plans to spill the beans over lunch.
  • A 12-year-old girl has her first day in her new school, after moving from California to London, England, on September 8th, 1992.
  • A five-year-old boy disembarks from the Vulcania at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, setting foot on Canadian soil for the first time on January 30th, 1960, after emigrating from Italy.
  • A horrific fire burns down the most important monument in your town, last Friday.

Elements that can help evoke setting detail include the objects that surround your characters, as well as the clothing they wear, and the type of speech they use. What sort of vehicles are used for transportation? Which clothes are fashionable? Unfashionable? Is there music playing in your scene? That too, can help transport your readers to a precise time and place.

Looking for a little more guidance and some inspiration? Matthew Weiner, creator of the television show Mad Men is famous for insisting on period-appropriate clothing, props, and music for the show, to the point of recreating the weather on critical days in history! Now that’s attention to setting.

Have fun setting your scenes. You might even have to do a little research! I can’t wait to read what you write.

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  1. Actually, it’s impossible to “recreate” the setting of anything in the past. It’s only possible to make it believable to people who were not there.

    1. I see that you’ve got the link to the Challenge at the bottom of your post. Note that if you use “https” instead of “http” as part of the URL, that pesky letter “s” will prevent your pingback from appearing on the list below.

  2. Not related to this, but to today’s Daily Prompt (because comments aren’t allowed there):

    The pingbacks aren’t working. I did a post for it and so did a few of the bloggers I follow, so I know I didn’t simply mess something up. Right now, the page lists no posts.

    1. Looks like we forgot one element of the magic spell required to publish prompts for today. All fixed — thanks for pointing that out, Bumblepuppies!

  3. This was a good outlet for something I wrote impromptu a few hours ago for the Daily Prompt. I am really inspired by these challenges and they seem to be taking root in a very valuable way! As far as setting is concerned, I think as readers we need to have a very clear ear to hear where the story takes place. There are very subtle cues that give way to setting and if we are keeping a close eye on the sights there, we can truly feel like we are a part of the story and can experience it as well. Here’s my attempt…

  4. I will give this a go because I am sitting up late and cannot get to sleep. I am in Australia and do not know much about the places you set so I really only have the option of the fire burning down the town’s monument back last Friday.

  5. I have a great setting for a love story. It actually takes place in two separate hemispheres, I was going to submit it to Reader’s Digest. Maybe I should blog it here first?

59 Responses Ready to write? To participate, publish a post on your blog that responds to the prompt. Include a pingback and we’ll list your post below. Learn More