Fiction Writing Lesson 1: Setting

Here is the lesson plan we will follow in tonight’s class. Enjoy! (Click PDF to download.)Setting Worksheet 9-16-10


What is setting and how do I write it?

Setting is, well, the place where a story’s action unfolds. In plays, movies, novels, memoirs, poems, etc. the role of setting varies from being very important to the unfurling of the plot, or it can be completely arbitrary.

The typical way of writing setting is to explain the details big and small, physical and factual, through a section or several sections of exposition. Exposition is a fancy term for longer prose sections of background information or explanatory sections. There are, however, many ways to create setting—dialogue (and dialect), tone, characters, etc. Play with it.




“Fjord of Killary” by Kevin Barry (Published by The New Yorker at

After reading, consider the following question about the setting?

1)      What is the setting of this story? Is it a real or fantastical place?

2)      How does the setting drive the plot?

3)      How does the writer use pre-existing conflict as a jumping off point>

4)      How does the writer use the setting to move plot, create suspense, or set tone?

5)      What are the big details of the setting? How does the writer include them?

6)      What smaller details play a big part in the setting?

7)      Is the setting vivid? How so?

8)      Does the writer assume the reader recognizes the setting? If yes, to what extent?

9)      What are some specific ways that this writer creates the space with details or tone?

10)   Could the action take place anywhere else? Is the setting deliberate or arbitrary?

Writing Exercise

Practice writing setting AND maintaining a consistent writing flow (in prep for NaNoWriMo) by writing a setting—real or imagined. Use your powers of exposition to create a detailed setting. Play with the details—what to include or exclude. Run with it. Consider, if you’d like, characterizing your setting with thematic details that convey a particular tone. Think of Barry’s Killary, and the way the narrator colors the hotel using word choices and allusions that give the setting a particularly dark and ominous tone.

This exercise can also work for journaling or memoir purposes. Write (without stopping) about a setting that profoundly affected you. It can be a past setting (a grandmother’s house, a favorite childhood hiding place) or a setting that you are in often (your home or workplace.) How does the feeling that the setting gives you play out in the details? Use the same technique to create mood or tone. A “rolling-hot-breath-box” is an image much more loaded with feeling than “a city bus.” Consider how the place makes you FEEL on top of just the physical and factual characteristics of the place.




About Taylor

Teacher/Writer/Word Nerd View all posts by Taylor

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