Imagine if, instead of leading to a winter wonderland, the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe dropped the Pevensie children in outer space. It would change the entire story, wouldn’t it? The setting a writer chooses is incredibly important to the story, whether the tale unfolds in a single place or along a pilgrim’s trail.
The Earth is Flat
Earth may be circular to us, but a character’s world has edges. Unless the story takes place in a universe where absolutely anything can happen (think Doctor Who) it’s going to have boundaries based on where the action is. Setting provides context. The familiarity, and even unfamiliarity, of a setting gives the reader an idea of what to expect, lets him settle more fully into the story the writer is creating.
Man vs. Nature
Setting can also create obstacles for the protagonist, making the setting a character all its own. Maybe the hero is scaling a cliff but in the last few feet the rock beneath her hand comes loose, or he comes face to face with Mother Nature in a storm that threatens to sweep his town away. A setting can be utilized as an antagonist, whether it creates an element of danger or just a temporary inconvenience.
Tone It Down
Tone is vital to any story, creating mood and emotionally drawing the reader into the plot. Establishing tone is a large part of what setting is for. It all goes back to establishing context, forming a connection with the reader. Most people aren’t afraid of a carousel. At least not until the sun goes down. Not until it starts spinning with a rusty groan, all on its own. There’s a significant difference between what’s expected of a place based on something as simple as time of day. When and where something happens can completely change the tone of the scene, and sometimes the entire book.
In my novel, Holden and Marley face a slew of different settings — castles, tar swamps, lakeside towns and underground tunnels. What’s more, the settings they encounter allow them to bond as they watch each other react to their surroundings. Each place they visit presents new challenges, new excitement, and more dangerous enemies.