When someone reads a novel, he is often looking for a way to temporarily escape from reality and hopes to be ‘transported’ to an unusual or glamorous location. Therefore, if you can set your story against a thrilling, unfamiliar or exotic backdrop, you will certainly excite the reader’s imagination and enhance the quality of your story. The following is an explanation of how to find a suitable setting for your story and examples thereof.

Finding a Suitable Setting

Your aim should be to create a setting that reflects the mood of your story. For instance, if the theme of your story is about a group of people trapped in small and frustrated lives, make sure that the world you create for them is one that is confined and restricted. It should be a world where rules and conventions keep them hemmed in. If your setting is more bizarre and unusual, readers are more likely to accept spooky and surreal events happening there.

A Fresh Perspective

Even if you choose a fairly normal setting, readers expect you to show unusual aspects of such a routine world. For example, if you set your story in the suburbs, it does not have to be dull. Instead, show us what really goes on behind respectable suburban lives. Readers love to read about the scandals, crime and illicit romances in such apparently ‘boring’ places.

A word of caution: although you need to describe your setting, do not overwhelm your readers with a travelogue. Instead, feed the details of your setting into the text appropriately.

Examples of Suitable Settings

The following are 4 examples of settings for novels.

1. Menacing

Menacing settings are usually reserved for thrillers, horror stories or crime dramas. The setting should be edgy and hostile; it can be anything from a desolate desert, icy terrain, towering mountain ranges and crashing seas to city boardrooms and prison walls. The idea is to place your protagonist in a situation that is unfamiliar to him and unsuited to his nature. This increases the conflict in the plot and makes the reader wonder if the protagonist will succeed in his quest.

2. Glamour

If the truth be known, everyone fantasises about the world of the rich and famous. If your protagonist moves in wealthy circles, or aspires to do so, set your story in a palace or mansion where he can rub shoulders with people who lead a jet-set life. You don’t need to confine your setting to a 60-bedroom Palladian mansion in Hampshire, England. Indeed, nothing can be more exotic and glamorous than having your story set in a palace in Rajasthan, India or ancient Angkor, Cambodia.

3. Power

When you choose to have a setting that is powerful, the idea is to create one that is dynamic and where important decisions are made. For instance, company boardrooms, secret government departments, courtrooms, exclusive clubs and casinos are all places where people of influence wield power and things can become dangerous in an instant.

4. Science Fiction

Of all settings, this is the most exciting one because you can create the most bizarre setting and people will believe you. The only limit is your imagination. What you must aim for is this: through the words you use to narrate your stories, your reader must feel himself transported to a strange and exotic land full of unusual and intriguing customs and traditions. Your audience must feel that they are there – down every dusty road, every sun-kissed beach and so on.

Ultimately, you should always keep in mind that however exotic or exciting your setting is, it is, primarily, the backdrop of your story. Such detailed care and attention you show to creating an exciting setting for your novel will be recognised and appreciated by publishers when the time comes to submit your manuscript to them.



  • Rozelle , Ron. Description and Setting: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Believable World of People, Places and Events (Write Great Fiction) Writer’s Digest Books (24 Jun 2005)
  • WritersandArtists.co.uk. Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. A&C Black (June 30, 2010)
  • Editors of Writer’s Digest Books. The Complete Handbook Of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know About Creating & Selling Your Work. Writer’s Digest Books; 2 edition (August 22, 2010).

By Aneeta Sundararaj

This article was first published on Suite.101: http://suite101.com/article/how-to-create-suitable-settings-for-your-novel-a383016

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