Coming Up with a Setting

A setting is a time and a place for the story or the scene. For example, most of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is set at Hogwarts in the 1990’s. Setting is important because it can help shape the mood or tone of the story, but it also gives your readers something to latch on to, something physical for them to imagine. A well written setting will ease the reader into the story’s environment, and help make the story more memorable.


Setting is usually one of the first things that comes to mind when writers have an idea for a story. If you are having trouble coming up with a setting, or you are just looking for something to write about, here are a few easy ways to come up with a setting:

  • Write about the room you are in. Write about what you wish it would look like, or what you fear it would look like.
  • Write about the saddest/scariest place you have ever been in. What made it feel this way to you?
  • Think of visiting somewhere that would make you (or one of your characters) say ‘Wow’. You want that feeling of awe to pervade your thoughts as you write this.

Before you put this setting into a story, you must first explore it fully.

  • What does it smell like? Sound, taste?
  • How cold is it? Is it wet and humid, or cold and lonely?
  • What are the dominant and secondary colors? Shapes?
  • Why would someone (not) want to live there?
  • What would a first time visitor say about it?

The most important thing to focus on is how your setting is unique. Green leafed-trees and brown soil are common, snow-covered mountains and dry deserts are common. But what if the green leaves were turning silver? What if the mountain was heating up, and all the ice was dripping down it’s sides? What if the desert smelled like sweet, burning meat? Remember, you want to make your setting memorable.

Try writing a poem about your setting, from a traveler’s point of view, or from a renowned local artist’s. Try to figure out what daily life around your setting includes. Ask yourself, “Does my story need to take place here? Can it be somewhere else? Why?” Figure out what you want from your setting.

Now, tell me, what is your favorite setting? What makes it so unique? Why do you think the writer chose that setting?