fiction setting

Fiction Setting: 9 Tips to Create a Great Setting

Salmaan Ahmad

Salmaan Ahmad

March 20, 2024

In any novel, the fiction setting is key element. Writers who can make readers feel like they’ve been whisked away to a new place are writers that readers will turn to again and again. You want your readers to feel immersed in the story. Writing a good fiction setting will transport your readers, and it’s a skill you’ll use in every book. Here are some tips to creating wonderful scenes and avoiding the common fiction setting mistakes.

1 Use All the Senses

When you go to a new place, you do more than just see new things. You typically have a full sensory experience that involves your senses of smell, feeling, and hearing. Every location sounds different, and its sounds can change dramatically from daytime to nighttime.

Think about the different sounds you hear when you visit a coastal beach town compared to those you get when visiting a small mountain village or a busy city street. Use your knowledge and imagination to capture what your fictional setting smells and sounds like.

You can also use your character as an element of your fiction setting. Instead of just describing a setting, for instance, describe the way it makes your character feel. Describe the discomfort of a cold rain, the cozy smell of tea brewing, or the unwelcome odors of an overflowing garbage can. By using your character to convey a sensory experience, you’ll help your readers feel like they’re there with him or her.

2 Study Travel Guides

Travel guides are an invaluable resource for any armchair traveler, and that includes fiction setting writers. You can consult them to learn how people travel to the city or country in question, how long the journey takes, and what it involves. These guides are also useful for quickly learning the highlights of your chosen place, including the main landmarks and most famous tourist sites. They offer information about where to stay, eat, and play while you’re there, and also practical information about using public transportation, buying necessities, and getting medical help.

Travel guides are usually written by people with extensive experience visiting a certain place. They may also be written by writers who live there. These are trusted resources who have compiled key points of information into an easy-to-use guide.

Best of all, you don’t have to break the bank buying them. You can get used travel guides at thrift stores or check them out at your local library.

3 Visit in Person with Google Maps

In case you’re unaware, Google Maps is a wonderful way to virtually visit any corner of the globe. When the technology first came out, people used its Street View feature to find their own streets and homes—there it was, a full rendition in living color. But did you know that you can use it to visit any street in the world?

Street View offers 360-degree camera imagery to make you feel like you’re actually there, walking the streets, turning corners, and seeing famous landmarks. With Street View, you can narrow in on some of the most famous streets of the most famous cities in the world—and even those that aren’t famous at all.

4 Look at Maps

Maps give you a bird’s eye view of any location. They’re also important for helping you understand where a location is in relation to other landmarks in your story.

This is especially important if you’re using a setting that’s well-known. If your characters are meeting at a specific park and then walking to a well-known museum, make sure the museum in question is walking distance from that park and that the route isn’t blocked by a river or an impassable gorge. Readers who are familiar with the location will call you out for these and other fiction setting mistakes.

You can get maps of the United States from auto clubs like AAA or from the U.S. Geological Survey. For maps of other countries, visit the Map Shop, an online store.

5 Research the Location

The quickest and easiest way to research the fictional setting is to look it up online. Go to the city’s online site or tourist board page to get basic information about where it is, whether it’s in proximity to other well-known cities, and what its population size is. Be sure to do a search for key things like:

  • Popular restaurants
  • Cafes
  • Libraries
  • Unique local shops
  • Weather patterns
  • Museums
  • Bus and train stations
  • Local newspapers
  • Radio and TV channels that broadcast there

Knowing these details add that touch of insider’s knowledge to your fiction setting. The internet is jam-packed with travel advisories, “best things to do” lists, visitor’s guides, and other materials that relate to almost any city, anywhere. Even the smallest towns have their online boosters who are proud to share its biggest points of pride. The information is out there, so use it to enhance your writing.

6 Go Big

If you’re setting your story in a city you don’t know that well, you also need to research the state, province, region, or country that it’s in. Avoid one of the main fiction setting mistakes of writing about a place without taking the wider area into account.

To do this, you will have to go beyond internet research. Start with a brief overview of the state or region’s history. Continue your research to learn about its main industries, languages spoken, key historical events, population demographics, and other information that will help you write about it in a knowledgeable way.

Note that you may never use all these details in your book, but they will help you create a picture of the region you’re writing about. You will sound authentic and avoid making some obvious fiction setting mistakes.

7 Spend Some Screen Time

To get a good idea of what life is like in your chosen spot, look for documentaries about it. These will give you a good factual basis for understanding the history, culture, and people of the city or region that is your chosen setting. Watch for details you can use when developing your fiction setting.

You can also watch travel shows that feature the location. These are enjoyable and will give you a sense of what it’s like to be there in person. You can find documentaries and travel shows on most streaming channels or on YouTube.

If you use YouTube, look for videos that show driving guides or walking guides through different locations. There are hundreds of these available for every part of the world. They are enjoyable to watch and will give you an immediate sense of being immersed in the location. Use that feeling to recreate the setting in your novel.

8 Fiction Setting Tips for Imaginary Locations

These tips will work for writers who want to set their stories in real places. What about those who use imaginary settings? You can’t look up your imaginary world online, after all.

You can employ these same ideas by figuring out if there’s a real city or place that has the same elements as your imaginary one. After all, your world was probably inspired by a real-life counterpart. If your setting is a small country filled with historic buildings and cobblestoned streets, use a European city like Prague or Edinburgh to inspire your setting descriptions.

Does your imaginary world include a frozen, desolate landscape? Explore the northern parts of Canada or Alaska to get a sense of what that would look like.

Don’t make the common fiction setting mistakes of some writers who build imaginary worlds:

  • Be sure the imaginary world feels fully developed, with a history and a future.
  • Maintain consistency of distances, weather patterns, and other factors that make a place feel real.
  • Remember that basic laws of physics still apply to an imaginary world, unless it’s a world that’s specifically described as lacking them.
  • Consistency and believability are key to creating immersive new worlds.

9 Use Fiction Setting to Travel the World

You may not have the budget or time to travel to the fiction setting of your novel. Despite that, you can create a setting that draws readers in and provides the perfect backdrop to your story. If you’re planning to publish your novel, work with the experts at Publishing Xpress.

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