How To Write A Setting By Focusing On Circumstance

How To Write A Setting posted by Kathleen Bowen on June 1, 2022.

Circumstance is the element of setting that is most often overlooked when both writing and evaluating stories.

How To Write A Setting

There are four literary elements to consider when writing a story. These are the plot, setting, characters and theme. This article focuses on setting.

Simply put, the setting is the place, time, and the circumstances that surround the plot, characters and contributes to the overall theme. 

Don't make the mistake of simply placing characters in a time and place. Rather engage in good story telling by creating circumstances that influence the characters. This is key to how to write a setting.

How To Evaluate A Setting

How do you decide which book is next on your reading list? Well if you are like most people you choose a book that has been recommended by a friend or trusted source.

One such source is  Industrious Family's book suggestions for the whole family.

Whether you realize it or not people tell you the most compelling elements of the story's plot, setting, theme and characters without telling too much so that you are still intrigued and want to read the book yourself.

Whether you are praising a good book in a casual oral situation or if you are writing a formal book review, examining the circumstances of the novel will help sell the story.

How To Write A Setting Charlotte Yonge Style

Take a look at the story Grisly Grisell by Charlotte Yonge. The obvious setting of the story is in England and Belgium. It takes place in castles, convents, taverns, and courtyards. The time is the fifteenth century.

This is all important to the setting, but a major part of this important literary element has yet to be developed.

The cleverness of Yonge's work is the way she tells the story of the War of the Roses through the unlikely romance between Leonard Copeland and Grisell Dacre.

The circumstances the plot unfolds is what makes the story so wonderfully endearing.

The story's setting has for a backdrop the turbulant years of the English Civil War. The royal family at the time was King Henry VI who went mad and his French queen Margaret of Anjou. The controversy that sparked the war were differing opinions on who should rule (seeing the king was unfit)--the French queen or the Duke of York?

The queen's army bore a red rose and the duke's wore a white rose thus giving the war the name the War of the Roses. Ultimately the red rose lost and the duke's line became the new heirs to the British throne. 

These are the political events surrounding the main characters.

Grisell Dacre and Leonard Copeland are on opposing sides of the war and they are entered into a marriage contract to help heal the feud between the two families. Grisell's family is on the side of the White Rose and is loyal to the duke and Leonard Copeland's family is loyal to the Red Rose that supports the queen.

Every event that occurs as the romance unfolds is a consequence of this War of the Roses. Their being raised in the same household, the marriage contract being broken, his being captured and forced to marry Grisell, his being forced to take the tower and keep Grisell as his wife despite being in love with another. And the final climatic events that lead to a happy and satisfying ending that readers and audiences love!

How To Write A Winning Setting

Evaluating stories is the best way to learn how to write a setting that wins. A great setting is important in script writing and creative writing.

This all pertains to movie making because the scriptwriter and the director need to deliver a great story setting visually which in some ways can be more difficult but need not be if a lot of attention to detail is discussed in the preproduction stage.

Writing reviews that are intriguing also requires this skill of recognizing circumstances as the key element of the setting of a story. High schoolers will earn high scores as they hone in this skill and all can benefit from using circumstance to tell good stories.

How To Write A Setting: The Mechanics

When you are writing a setting, you want to make sure it is compelling and brings the story forward rather than bog it down. A setting can be filling in a backstory or telling little known (but necessary to the storyline) facts about the place or time.

The greatest movies have these elements. Think of Ben-Hur. The story is set in a time that we tend to know a lot about, the time of Christ. An interesting element is the affectionate relationship between Judah and his slave, Simonides. 

This shows a story that is different than we are used to seeing, though it's probably true. That is an interesting element that is part of setting: true relationships from different times that we would not suppose happening.

This is just a small glimpse of the setting of Ben-Hur. Other elements include the buildings of Jerusalem, the relationship between the Romans and the Jews, and, of course, the ancient entertainment of the Romans. 

These are all things that you need to consider when you are thinking of the setting you want to write. Who is influencing your characters? What are their customs? Their culture? What is happening in their country when the story takes place and how does it affect them?


Kathleen Bowen is a founding member of IndustriousFamily.com. She is a busy homeschooling mother of ten children with seven currently in school. She acts as producer for Industrious Family Films. She is living her dream of off-the-grid yurt living, enjoys gardening, flowers and creating table arrangements.


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