Choosing the Right Setting for Your Book

Where should you set your novel? It is another of those questions that writers have to answer when writing a novel. In many cases, the question of where to set your novel – the time period, the location – will essentially answer itself, either because your plot and characters demand a certain setting, or because you have a strong desire to set a novel in a particular place. However in other cases, particularly when you’re in the early planning stages of your book, this could be a little bit up in the air.

Setting is important, and it plays a crucial role in helping readers decide whether or not they can buy into the plausibility of your story, so it needs to make sense and feel natural. Here are a few things you might need to think about when choosing your setting.

The characters
It almost goes without saying that your characters will have a huge bearing on the time and place in which your story is set. After all, if you’re writing about a historical figure or fictional people from a time gone by then unless you’ve got some Doctor Who time travelling going on, they’re most likely going to be found in a particular time period and location.

In novels that aren’t historical, your characters can still help you with your setting. You might find that a particular place works well with their temperament – a loner who lives in the middle of nowhere, for example, or a party person who lives in a shared house in a bustling city. Alternatively, you could put your characters somewhere they feel uncomfortable to add another layer to the story.

The plot
This is another obvious consideration, but think carefully about where and when your plot would work best. It can often be tempting to set books in the present day because that’s what we know, but don’t forget there’s the whole of time to play with too. And think about the place – this isn’t just the general location of the story, but also the specific locations such as houses, offices and outdoor spaces. Where does your plot happen?

The logic
Also, settings need to be logical. If your rich character who’s had a life of luxury is suddenly living in relative squalor, why is this? Why that particular place? Of course a lot of the plausibility of this sort of thing will depend on your plot and characters, but the places also need to be right.

Science fiction is another good example of where logic comes in and how an oversight could cost your story its plausibility. Don’t, for instance, go to great lengths discussing how perilous a planet’s atmosphere is for people and then let them wander around without oxygen equipment. An extreme example maybe, but lapses in logic – however minor – can impact on your whole story.

The setting as a character
There is also a decision to be made about how you want the setting to be portrayed. Is it there only as a suitable backdrop for the events of your story, or could your setting be something of a character in its own right (Wuthering Heights is an example of how a place – the wild moors – can take on heightened significance within a story)? If the latter, what will this add?

For many writers, coming up with a setting is a natural process. You might not even realise that you’ve gone through the process; the decision might be an instinctive one, but even if you know from the beginning where and when the story will be set and why, it still pays to know for certain you’ve made the right choice.

What do you think? How do you come up with the setting for your work?

Look out for World Book Night

As many a book fan will be able to tell you, tonight (23/4) is World Book Night. For anyone unfamiliar with it, it’s really very simple.

In the UK alone, around 20,000 people will each be giving out 24 copies of a book, selected from a list of 25 titles. This year, the choice of books ranges from Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island to Emma Donoghue’s Room and Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham. The book givers are encouraged to give their books out in creative ways, ideally to people who tend not to read. Also, World Book Night gives out loads more books over the course of the year, so that 1 million books are given away in all.

It’s a great way to get people reading, and the event started last year in the UK. This year, it’s also taking place in other countries such as the US and Germany, so this is clearly an idea that’s catching on. It’s also a nice reminder that even though e-books are often seen to be current and where the trends are right now, physical books still have their place and will always be special.

After all, for pretty much everybody, our first experiences of reading will have been with physical books. It’s only in the past few years that e-books have really come into their own and even though they’re currently starting to overtake physical book sales, for many people, physical books still provoke an emotional response that e-books perhaps don’t in the same way – yet, anyway.

The idea behind World Book Night is to help get people reading, and so it’s definitely something to get on board with. Maybe next year, advocates of independent publishing should get together and give out copies of exciting self-published books to help more people find out about the growing number of gems the industry has to offer and encourage people to give them a go.

Are you giving out books for World Book Night? If you could give out copies of any book of your choice, which one would you go for?