3 EZ Ways to Use Setting in Fiction

Flash Floods in Phoenix

Flash Floods in Phoenix

My hometown of Phoenix, Arizona is experiencing a deluge of crazy storms. Five inches of rain in one day? Flash floods are causing all sorts of problems. Which got me thinking about settings in fiction and how to use them more effectively.

Writing Tip for Today: What are three easy ways to make better use of setting in your fiction?


As the good folks of Phoenix have seen, dumping a big load (or five inches of rain) of description about anything into a scene sinks readers’ immersion in the story. A scene with a big chunk of blah-blah about the beautiful scenery quickly bores readers who only want to know, “And then what happened?” Instead of describing a setting for a paragraph, insert bits at the beginning to set the scene, but after that, use “setting” sentences here and there around the dialogue and action. This will help remind readers where they are in space and make the scene more like a three-dimensional experience.

Through POV Character’s Eyes.

As you are micro-placing (using short sentences) the setting around the action/dialogue, you can also use your setting to build character by describing it through your POV character’s senses. For example, you might love a good thunderstorm, but someone else might be terrified. By filtering setting through your characters you help the reader get to know that character and help set the mood for the scene.

Setting As Character?

We often read a lot about using the fictional setting as a character. But what does that mean? In Moby Dick, the setting is a stormy sea, and it eventually informs the entire work as a metaphor for Captain Ahab’s insanity and lack of reason. But it’s a mistake to tack on a certain setting and force the metaphor. If the setting is to be perceived as a “character,” then it must seem to readers that 1) the story could not take place anywhere else and 2) the setting acts upon the main character to change or thwart her direction. When you decide on your fictional setting, ask yourself if it satisfies these two requirements.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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