Well folks the response from my question about posting more about writing, and the different aspects that make up a story,  was overwhelmingly positive.  So here is my first posting in that vein.  Today I’m talking a bit about “settings” for your story.  Now settings do more than just give the reader a location where the action is taking place.  Settings do much, much more to the story.   They can be a mere backdrop or they can have a definite impact on how your characters are shaped.  How they become the people they are when we meet them in your story can be very much affected by their settings.

For instance… where does your story take place?  In Heaven?  Hell?  Another planet? This world?  If it is this world, what time frame?  Middle Ages? The future?  World War I or II?  Another time entirely?  And how does that setting affect the rest of your story?  Does the environment your characters are living in shape their personalities or how they get by in life?  Are they isolated with few friends because of the terrain or location?   Are they considered the outsider by the rest of the population who has been brainwashed to fit in and act a certain way by a higher authority?  In Frank Herbert’s “DUNE”, the setting of Arakis had a major role in shaping the main character Paul and his mother.  From leaving a world of splendor with water and lush vegetation to going to a barren desert planet, where water was more valuable than money or any riches.  The dangerous and harsh world re-shapes Paul from pampered youth to hard-bitten leader of the desert tribes of Arakis.  He learns hard and fast how to survive the threats of the planet itself, along with the political backstabbing that led to his father’s murder.  Setting can create a great tension that helps drive your story.

A setting can also be the major plot of a story as well.  In Ray Bradbury’s short sci-fi story “HERE THERE BY TYGERS” a planet itself is the main plot point.  A survey team for a mining company arrive on a planet that is sentient.  It offers them anything they could ever wish for: food, lush vegetation, water, even companionship.  It is a living paradise with the most gigantic and caring hostess you could ever meet.  Unfortunately, through the actions of one of their team, they learn the price of disrespect.  He is killed after purposely trying to hurt the planet by drilling samples in a savage manner.  He hates all planets and feels they must be beaten down and tamed.  In the end, the rest of the crew decide to return home, all save one member who has fallen in love with the planet. The others learn of his departure AFTER they have left and envy him.  They know the planet will take care of him and even maybe extend his life in a lush world that aims to please him.  But they can never return.  Even as they look back on the world it now ‘appears’ as a violent raging world of molten lava and volcanic eruptions.  They realize that the world was in a way a woman who had offered them everything.  But they had scorned her and now she is furious and will not let them return to her surface.   A truly brilliant piece.

So what kind of setting are you aiming for?  An inner-city ghetto?  A desert where an army is trying to deal with survival in more than one respect?  Or are you creating a  quiet suburban town where ‘nothing seems to happen’.  In each case your characters must interact with their surroundings.  That setting should shape your character’s personality and development before and during the story.  In that quiet suburban town where your lead is bored, what secrets lie beneath the ground or behind those seeming bland windows of the cookie-cutter housing that lines the streets.

Settings are powerful tools and not just backdrops.   Keep this in mind as you write, because you never know.  The setting you create may be one that you’ll want to return to again because there are more tales to be told from there.