Definition of setting

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Setting, quite simply, is the story’s time and place. Setting can include the locale of the story, the weather, the time of day, and the time period (past, present, or future). One purpose of the setting is to provide background- a place for the characters to live and act in. A good setting helps to make the story real and believable.
While setting includes simple attributes such as climate or wall décor, it can also include complex dimensions such as the historical moment the story occupies or its social context. Because particular places and times have their own personality or emotional essence (such as the grim wary resolve in the United States after the September 11th attacks), setting

is also one of the primary ways that a fiction writer establishes mood or atmosphere.

Typically, short stories occur in limited locations and time frames, whereas novels may involve many different settings in widely varying landscapes. Even in short stories, however, readers should become sensitive to subtle shifts in setting for these details about the setting help reveal a turn in the plot. Setting is often developed with narrative description, but it may also be shown with action, dialogue, or a character’s thoughts.

Characters in a story all have to interact in one way or another with its setting. Setting can often help reveal character traits, and it is one of the primary ways an author establishes the story’s mood. In some stories, the setting can strongly affect the plot, functioning almost like another character. An example of this is in “A Sound of Thunder” when Eckels notices that he has altered his country’s history by simply stepping on a butterfly. The setting is extremely important to the plot and the actions of the characters in this story. More commonly, though, the setting is always there as a foundation for the story—illuminating character aspects, influencing actions, and helping to set the mood.

Like the other elements of storytelling, creating a setting is a skill. To create a believable setting, or one that can make us feel happiness, mystery, or fear, the writer must select the right details or images. Images are words that call forth a response from our senses- sight, smell, touch, hearing, and at times, even taste. When a writer supplies a few right images, (such as the details of the pathway and dinosaurs in “A Sound of Thunder”) we, as the reader, are able to provide the rest of the scenery. We might draw from our own experience, or we might go beyond our memory into our instincts and into the pool of our subconscious. There we will find all kinds of images- of desert islands, palaces, and planets where, so far as we know, we have never been. This exercise of our imaginations is what makes fiction a more personal and mind-enhancing experience than, for all their lazy pleasures, the ready-made images of movies and television.


Setting: the time and place of a story
Social context: The significant cultural issues affecting a story’s setting or authorship
Mood: The underlying feeling or atmosphere produced by a story

Select one phrase from each of the following columns.

Column A Column B
A sports stadium on Halloween

A desert valley during a heat wave

A city street after the United States has miraculously won the world cup in soccer
A hotel suite after the September 11th attacks
A used car lot in the year 2050
An emergency room during a power outage
A train on the day of a wedding
as a huge comet is about to hit the earth

Using the selected combination as a starting point, write a brief description of this setting, including additional details to help develop it. Please elaborate on your answer.

What mood is created by the setting you described? Explain how the setting's details help to establish its mood.

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