ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Write Setting

Updated on June 30, 2014


Time periods, locations, cultural standards, dates, times, and more go into determining setting. You can place your story in the middle of the Victorian Era of London, England, within a specific year, on a particular street corner or building. Using well-known events or locations can appeal to readers who are familiar with the areas, but require research to gain accuracy.


The Civil War Era of United States History was experienced differently in the South than in the North, and even today has an impact on how people view each other, their ideals, and the areas affected. Dixie flags can still be viewed in places like South Carolina, and religious values are still heavy in what is known as the Bible Belt.

Time Periods

For historical accuracy, placing a novel in a specific time period can give the reader a sense of the culture of the characters, what to expect from events, and can further the plot. People living in America during World War II had a very different mindset than those in Europe, and especially different than in modern times. Humanity faced different challenges during the Dark Ages, such as the plague, than they do now. In the future, anything can happen, from technological advancement to the apocalypse—dystopias and utopias are a mainstay of science-fiction because of the future’s potential. When deciding on the time period for a novel, authors must research periods to familiarize themselves with traditions, technology, events, social norms, even speaking patterns. Characters will speak and behave differently in one period than in another.

An online resource called Preceden allows you to view timelines and build your own for researching and planning your novel.

Physical Locations

Putting specific buildings into a novel can ground readers within the real world. Famous locations like Wrigley Field in Chicago, the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, Big Ben in London, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and more add elements of reality to the fictionalized story. Authors can create their own locations to establish a familiar setting for readers and characters, a Home Base to return to. These locations can be a certain character’s home, a public building like the local library or museum, or a private location such as the woods behind a house.

A physical location can also be a jungle, a beach, an ocean, a forest, the desert, and more. Knowledge of how these areas react during certain seasons, such as weather patterns, can provide accuracy to the novel. If characters are left wandering the desert for several days, they may experience dehydration, blistering skin due to sunburns, dry mouth, and a hoarse throat, making them unable to speak properly and sapping their strength. If they do not find water, shelter, and food, they will die. To ignore those factors is bad storytelling. This is also true for shipwrecked sailors, left drifting on a life raft or plank of wood in the middle of the ocean. Salt water is not good for drinking, and sharks have been known to swarm around the remains of ships to hunt for stragglers. Sailors sometimes resort to cannibalism in order to survive.

Indicating the time can be as simple as pointing out a year, either subtly by having a character glance at a newspaper, or by starting off a particular section with the year in text:

Subtle reference: “Charlie picked up the newspaper labeled July 10th, 1949…”

Direct reference: “The year was 1949, the date July 10th, and Charlie sat with a newspaper in his favorite chair…”

In-Text:July 10th, 1949

Charlie was reading the newspaper when it happened…”

Dates & Times

Certain genres of fiction may benefit from pinpointing the specific date and time throughout the novel, such as murder mysteries and thrillers. Making a countdown can help the author keep a steady sense of time, while allowing the reader to keep up with detectives and serial killers in their movements. This can be done by noting the date and time of a chapter, or indicating a change of time by noting dates or mentioning clocks. This is the same for historical fiction when dealing with journals or diaries, or referencing specific events. Authors must be careful to keep track of time in their novels, whether they note it for the readers or keep it for themselves, in order to provide a chronological story which makes sense to readers. Certain events can take place over hours or days, and authors can indicate the change of days by noting the presence of night, having characters glance at a clock (either in the form of a watch, a bedside alarm, or glancing at their phones to check the time), and even having characters make a tally (like in jail).

Historical Events

Any historical event included in a novel should be researched for accuracy—even if the event is being changed. If the author makes a mistake by accidentally changing an event, readers can be thrown off and become disinterested in the story. Keeping the right dates and times is helpful, as well as acknowledging the locations and people involved. Famous historical events can be tricky to add into novels, while little known events can become fascinating. Authors can include events to intrigue readers, spread awareness, or provide a truthful account outside of a history textbook.

For time travelers, making certain rules about messing with or changing timelines can add a sense of tension to a plot. If one character makes a mistake, changing time and affecting the future, the consequences could create alternate realities or a completely different future to return to. Then the characters must decide if and how they can change the timeline back, or if the change is for the better. Changing one event invites speculation to the impact that event had; and when authors decide to change one event, they must take into account everything else that would change. If the Titanic never sank, hundreds of lives would be changed, leading to thousands of possibilities for a new future.

Cultural Places

Like physical locations and time periods, certain areas of the world are home to cultural phenomena. New Orleans is known for voodoo and superstition. The Mecca is a religious site for Islam. If authors place characters or plots around these cultural places, they must be aware of the affect and accuracy of their descriptions. Authors must be careful not to rely on stereotypes when dealing with other cultures. Characters can thrive or perish in the midst of a cultural festival or celebration, it can add depth to a backstory or plot to place an event in the middle of a cultural location. Detectives chasing a killer during a bull run in Spain can add spice and dramatic tension to the story.

Why Is Setting Important?

Even in a completely original world, knowledge of the history, dating system, time, and locations is important for readers to stay in touch. Even with detailed descriptions, imagination is a key part of a novel’s story. Having a recognizable place, frequented by characters or referenced with a particular connotation, can allow readers to journey into the world of the novel. Settings can arrange events in the plot, letting the readers know where a key fight will take place or where a historical event in the novel went down. Stories rely on settings just as much as plot and characters.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)