What is the Setting of a Story — Elements of Storytelling (2022)

What is the setting of a story? Is it simply the time and place of a story? Or is it something more? We’re going to look at some examples of setting in literature and film to see how writers and directors communicate time, place, and more in their works. But before we jump into some examples, let’s quickly review how setting is an integral part of every story.

Why is Setting Important?

First, let’s define setting

What are settings in a story? A setting in a story is a time and place where narrative exists; a single story can include numerous times and places — but it’s not possible for a story to exist without a setting. Because of this, we regard setting as a foundational aspect of storytelling. But what is a setting?

Well, it’s everything that suggests time and place. It’s the answer to the questions: where are we and when are we?

(Video) Story Elements for Kids: What Is a Setting?

Setting of a Story Examples • Lost - Where are We?

Some stories, such as the TV show LOST, use their setting as a plot device to drive the story forward. Now that we know the essential questions behind the question “what is a setting in a story,” let’s formally define setting.

DEFINE SETTING

What is the setting of a story?

A setting is the time and place of a story. Setting is either outwardly articulated to us, or discretely suggested to us. It can be suggested by weather, clothing, culture, buildings, etc. In screenwriting, setting is written into the slugline of a scene heading. But setting isn’t just the location of a scene, it’s the time in which it exists as well.

Characteristics of Setting

  • Time
  • Place
  • Surroundings

What is Established in the Setting of a Story?

How to communicate setting

There are many different ways that writers communicate setting. In literature, setting is communicated in two ways: dialogue, and descriptions. Of these, you’re least likely to find “setting” communicated in scene headings. That’s because it can come across as explanatory to the reader.

If a book has a lot of characters in different locations, then you may see the setting communicated in the scene heading, just as a means to remind us when and where we are in the story.

How do you find the setting in a story? Dialogue is one of the best tools to communicate setting in literature. Take this short exchange from Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” for example:

Hills Like White Elephants

"It's pretty hot," the man said.

(Video) Story Elements: Setting

"Let's drink beer."

"Dos cervezas," the man said into the curtain.

"Big ones?" a woman asked from the doorway.

"Yes. Two big ones."

What can we infer from this exchange? Well, first we can deduce that the two characters are in a warm climate. Second, we can deduce that they’re probably in a Spanish-speaking country. These deductions don’t change the story per se, but they do help us to construct the world in an imaginative sense.

Sometimes, setting is suggested in the descriptions of a scene. Take this excerpt from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit for example:

The hobbit

IN A HOLE in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats – the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill – The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it – and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage.The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.

This example from The Hobbit expertly shows us how to communicate setting through describing the environment. Remember: the use of specificity can be the difference between a bland setting and a vibrant one.

(Video) Story Elements | What is a setting | Narrative writing

Notice how Tolkien writes, “perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle” – this type of imagery allows our mind to create a visual world, just as the author intends.

Now that we’ve reviewed setting in literature, let’s review setting in screenwriting and film.

What is Included in the Setting of a Story Script?

How to write setting into scripts

As we alluded to earlier, setting is always communicated in the sluglines of a screenplay. What is a slugline? It’s essentially just the setting of a scene – and it looks something like this:

What is the Setting of a Story — Elements of Storytelling (1)

What’s the Setting of a Story? • Slugline Example

The slugline tells us whether the scene takes place inside (INT.) or outside (EXT.), and what time of day it is. The script may also tell us what year it is, depending on its relevance to the story.

We imported the Moneyball screenplay into StudioBinder’s screenwriting software to see how writers Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian communicate setting in one of the best baseball movies of all-time. You’ll notice in this first example that they communicate the year in which the scene takes place into the legend, below the scene heading and before the dialogue.

What is the Setting of a Story — Elements of Storytelling (2)

What is the Setting of a Story? • Read the Scene in Moneyball

The legend is used to communicate a specific time within a story. Just remember that it should always be written after at least one description/action line. Sometimes, the setting of a script changes on a dime. When this happens, the writers must write new slug lines and legends for each change in setting. Let’s take a look at how two master screenwriters do it.

What is the Setting of a Story — Elements of Storytelling (3)

(Video) Setting: Story Elements for Kids

What is the Setting of a Story? • Read the Scene in Moneyball

The rapid change of setting can create a frenetic feel for the audience, just like it does in this scene from Moneyball. Consequently, the rapid change of setting can create montages as well.

Let’s take a look at the opening scene from one of Woody Allen’s best movies, Manhattan. Pay attention to the presentation of this setting — everything from the cinematography, music, and voiceover.

Setting of a Story Examples • Manhattan

Would you say that the opening scene to Manhattan is frenetic? No! If anything, it’s more of a lullaby than a rock-song. So how does Woody Allen make the rapid change of setting feel so slow? Well, I’d say a lot of it has to do with the voiceover.

By voicing over the change of setting, he creates a narrative through-line – it’s not so much what we’re seeing that matters, it’s what he’s saying and what we’re seeing that matters.

(Video) Story Elements Part 1: Characters, Setting, and Events | English For Kids | Mind Blooming

UP NEXT

What is a Metaphor?

Sometimes, settings are used as metaphors for something greater than what they actually are. But what is a metaphor? In this next article, we break down everything you need to know about metaphors, with examples from literature and film. After looking at examples of metaphors in films like Parasite and The Big Lebowski, you’ll know how to apply metaphors in your own works.

Up Next: Metaphor Examples →

FAQs

What is setting in storytelling? ›

The setting of a story is the context in a scene or story that describes the elements in which a story is taking place, including time, place, and environment. Each component in story setting helps to build the narrative's mood, plot, and character development.

What is settings in a story example? ›

Also known as backdrop, a story setting can be drawn from imagination or based on historic events, as well as geographical locations in the real world (such as a specific city, or the house of a character). For example, The Martian by Andy Weir is set in space, in the future.

What are the main elements of setting? ›

The core elements of setting—including physical location, time period, and background events—are the foundation upon which writers build their plotline and main character's development.

What are the 3 parts of the setting? ›

Place Where does the story take place? Time When does the story take place? Environment How would you describe the place?

How do you describe setting? ›

How to Describe Setting in Writing
  • Use sensory details. Use all five senses to describe the immediate surroundings to the reader to quickly immerse them in the environment of your story. ...
  • Show, don't tell. ...
  • Use real-life locations. ...
  • Incorporate figurative language. ...
  • Keep it simple.
23 Aug 2021

What is setting and example? ›

Setting is where and when a story or scene takes place. The where can be a real place like the city of New York, or it can be an imagined location, like Middle Earth in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Similarly, the when can be a real time period (past or present) or imagined (the future).

What is the purpose of a setting? ›

Setting is one of the five essential elements of a story. It establishes the mood, reveals characters and conflicts, and gives clues to a story's theme. In this video, we'll see how time and place can do more than just give context.

What does setting element mean? ›

It is a literary element. The setting initiates the main backdrop and mood for a story. The setting can be referred to as story world or milieu to include a context (especially society) beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. Elements of setting may include culture, historical period, geography, and hour.

What are types of setting? ›

Students are familiar with the four types of setting: physical, social, historical and psychological.

What are 3 examples of setting? ›

The setting of a story can change throughout the plot. The environment includes geographical location such as beach or mountains, the climate and weather, and the social or cultural aspects such as a school, theatre, meeting, club, etc.

What are the 7 elements of setting? ›

Most storytelling experts agree that there are 7 key elements of a story that must exist.
...
What are the Elements of a Story?
  • 1 — A Theme. ...
  • 2 — Characters. ...
  • 3 — Setting. ...
  • 4 — Point of View. ...
  • 5 — Plot. ...
  • 6 — Conflict. ...
  • 7 — Resolution.
28 Aug 2020

What are the two main elements of setting? ›

The core elements of setting are: Time. Place. Mood.

When Should setting be used in a story? ›

4. When should setting be used in a story? a. Setting should be used in the beginning of the story, when there are new events in the story line, or when the reader needs information to understand the plot.

What are the 7 elements of setting? ›

Most storytelling experts agree that there are 7 key elements of a story that must exist.
...
What are the Elements of a Story?
  • 1 — A Theme. ...
  • 2 — Characters. ...
  • 3 — Setting. ...
  • 4 — Point of View. ...
  • 5 — Plot. ...
  • 6 — Conflict. ...
  • 7 — Resolution.
28 Aug 2020

What are 3 examples of setting? ›

The setting of a story can change throughout the plot. The environment includes geographical location such as beach or mountains, the climate and weather, and the social or cultural aspects such as a school, theatre, meeting, club, etc.

What are the 4 functions of setting? ›

Terms in this set (4)
  • 1st Function of Setting. Provides a backdrop for the action. ...
  • 2nd Function of Setting. Establishes atmosphere. ...
  • 3rd Function of Setting. Shapes character and action. ...
  • 4th Function of Setting. Reflects character psychology.

Videos

1. The Importance of Setting in a Story
(Flocabulary)
2. "What is a Setting?": A Literary Guide for English Students and Teachers
(Oregon State University - School of Writing, Literature and Film)
3. STORY ELEMENTS: A COMPLETE GUIDE FOR STUDENTS AND TEACHERS
(Innovative Teaching Ideas)
4. ELEMENTS OF A SHORT STORY | Literature | ELC
(English Lessons Compilation)
5. Narrative Conventions - What makes up a story?
(Ace Study Guides)
6. Plot, Setting, Characters, Point Of View, Theme, The Story Elements, Story Elements Lesson Video
(Learning Is Fun With Miss)

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