The Self-Publishing Insider

Creating the right book setting will make your story even more enjoyable for your readers. Here's how.

Setting the Setting in Your Book

Strong dialogue is a well-documented challenge for many authors, but, without a setting, the dialogue doesn’t matter. If this sounds shocking to you, consider setting a historical fiction piece in the wrong time period. How can the reader engage with the book if the details and dialogue are all wrong for the setting? Arguably the most important part of your story, make sure you are setting your book setting up for success.

What is the setting?

The book setting determines the where and when of the story—as in, where is the action happening? This includes the time period, society, culture, weather, architecture, and more of where the story is taking place. To engage your readers and help them feel immersed in your book, the setting has to be realistic for the action and dialogue—whether its two aliens talking to an astronaut on a far-away planet in the future, or a family in a little cabin in the 1800s during a blustery Midwestern winter.

How do I write a setting?

The first step to writing a book setting is determining what it should be. Consider if the story is taking place in a specific time period and place—if so, this is an integral setting. If your story takes place in an unspecified time period or place, this is called a backdrop setting. With integral settings, you have to make sure your story makes sense within the time period and place you choose. Ask yourself: Does the dialogue make sense with the time period? Do I need to change the dialect at all to make it fit? Is the style of dress and hair appropriate for the time period and lifestyles of the characters?

Once you’ve determined an appropriate setting, make sure you write it from a sensory perspective. You want readers to feel like they are in the story and can easily visualize the setting. Try to add as much detail as you can—you can always edit out some if needed later in the writing process. Include details relating to the five senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching.

Instead of just listing the setting’s characteristics, have some of them woven into narrative and dialogue from a character’s point of view. Have one of your characters describe the setting as they go about their actions; this way it’s woven seamlessly into the story instead of clunkily inserted in its own couple of paragraphs. This also allows readers to get an idea of the character’s personality, perspective, and attributes.

Lastly, use similes and metaphors to better your writing and make the descriptions more vivid. Consider this sentence: “She smiled widely.” Now consider this alternative: “She smiled, the two corners of her mouth stretching as wide as an Oklahoma prairie.” Which version is more colorful and striking? Clearly, the second one lends itself to a more vivid reader experience.

Once you follow these steps, you are ready to create a picture-perfect setting for your story. If you already have your story written but aren’t sure what to next, let PublishPros to help with all the steps to self-publishing. Contact us today with any questions!