Designing Short Stories Settings


After reading some of my short stories, I got to thinking about the importance of settings to the stories. Settings can be quite important to a story. They set the mood and give clues as to what the story contains. Sometimes the setting is a character in the story, and at other times it can take a backseat to the story. Here are some of my thoughts about formulating a short story setting.

The Setting encompasses the elements of the surrounding and atmosphere in which an event or story takes place. It may provide particular information about placement and timing. The atmosphere aspects of the setting might include social conditions, historical time, geographical locations, weather, and immediate surroundings.settings

Broadly there are two types of settings: Backdrop settings which emerge as unimportant to the story, i.e., the story may have taken place in many different settings. It’s a universal story. The second type is an Integral setting which elevates the setting to a prominent actor in the story. The setting influences the characters, the action, the mood, and theme of the story.

The objective in a short story is to have the setting transport the reader to your world and allow the reader to be able to imagine the when and where of the story. In a short story, you do not need to describe your setting in depth. However, it must be done early on and as comprehensively as possible. Your description should enable the reader to see—and feel—the story unfold. Think of the setting as the underlying infrastructure for your story.  In describing a setting include the sounds, smells and other sensory details that distinguish it. Using concrete descriptive nouns is the best way to get the idea of the setting from your mind to the paper. Remember though to provide only the details that enlighten the plot, mood, or character.

As an example consider this opening paragraph from my story Lucky Charm published here on March 17, 2018.      


The path, lined with shamrocks standing like soldiers dressed in green uniforms, wandered around the land showing off a variety of greens. I followed its wanderings taking in the ancient stone fences separating patches of fields and fairy-like cottages from one another. At one gate I saw a wash of yellow daffodils waving in the gentle breeze. Beyond the daffodils was a small field of shamrocks. At once I sat down and took off my shoes so that I could romp in the field with bare feet as I had as a youth. As I stepped onto the cloud of green leaves, I heard a squeal. “Oh my, what have I done?” I exclaimed aloud.

To help mold a picture for the reader where this story takes place, I  used concrete nouns such as ‘path,’ ‘shamrocks,’ ‘green,’ ‘stone fences,’ and ‘field.’ I have no reference to time other than to indicate the area had “fairy-like cottages” which hopefully intimates to the reader that this is a fairy tale and takes place in ‘Once upon a time.” The set-up paragraph indicates an atmosphere of beautiful landscape perhaps in Ireland due to the overwhelming reference to green and the shamrocks all around. Because the narrator takes his shoes off and feels free enough to walk in the field of shamrocks, it must be a sunny, warm day. The characters of the narrator and the being that squealed tell the reader that the story must be about the interaction of these two characters.  Another clue given is the ‘squealer’ is hidden, as the narrator did not see him as he stepped into the field of shamrocks.

The next time you are writing a short story I challenge you to think about your setting and how it can add to the plot or mood and support your story’s characters.

Comments are always welcome.

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