A scene from The Skin I live in 2011 (Source)
In the previous article, we talked about the plot and I thought its time to dedicate an article to the setting as along with the plot, character, and style, the setting is considered one of the main components of fiction. Now tell me, have you ever imagined yourself living in the house of Bilbo Baggins in a hobbit village in Tolkien's fictional universe? It's an example of how settings attract readers' imaginations and help a literary world come to life. This is why, the setting can be called a story world or milieu to demonstrate a context beyond the immediate environment of the story such as culture, geography, historical period, and hour, language, norms, politics, etc. Now, what is the Setting?
What is Setting?
To simplify it, the setting has two main elements of time and space, which means where and when the events of your chapters unfold. It's also the background against which the action happens. Setting can be found in both fiction and nonfiction and it is a literary element that builds the main mood of a story.
Remember that novels or any longer works, normally, have multiple settings. For example, in my novel ENARO, I have a different timeline, worlds, and geographical locations and each has its own characteristics and mood such as Nro buildings, Los Angeles, some regions of Russia, an alternative universe, different historical periods, and events,...
The setting of a story helps demonstrate important information about the world that impacts other literary elements, like plot and theme. For example, the story of the Red Dead Redemption 2 game which is set in 1899 in a fictionalized representation of the Western, Midwestern, and Southern USA will likely have a much different atmosphere and plot than a science fiction game like Cyberpunk 2077 that takes place in Night City, an open world set in the Cyberpunk futuristic universe. And YES! games have a storyline as well and we can discuss them along with books and movies. There are even works in which the setting became a character such as the house that becomes the antagonist in Edgar Allen Poe's short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher" becomes the story's antagonist. Cool, isn't it?
Elements of setting
I'd like to mention the elements of the setting in a more colorful way:)
So, each of these elements needs to be looked at separately and then linked to each other. After all, the historical period may define and impact the story world and the mood.
How to Create Richer Story Setting
For each of the aspects demonstrated in the diagram above, you need to make sure you follow these steps to create a great setting:
1. Research where your story is taking place
Research the place you are writing about. If it’s a real-world location then your life is easy. Just google about it and also, I recommend using Google Map to get a real feel of the location using street view IF you've never been to that place. When I say research you should look in-depth about:
architecture, transportation, climate, society, customs, language, religion, politics, identity definition, laws, food, norms, etc.
If it's a fictional world you can use historical or present events and locations to build up your own world and setting. In this case, what I do, I draw a rough map of primary locations and this gives me an idea of how characters will get from place to place. This gives a better sense of tangible measurable reality.
Example: Dickens' industrial city of Coketown in Hard Times (1854)
It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black … It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.
2. Create the world the same way you create your character
To create characters, we give them individual voices and characteristics to make them feel real. A place in your novel should have its own voice and characteristics. It means:
What's this world/place famous for? Significant landmarks? Is it an aging atmosphere or a thriving, young one? How will it change over time? Do characters’ are influenced by it or their actions and choices affect their environment? How do you show society as a whole in this setting? etc.
Example: Edgar Allan Poe's house in The Fall of the House of Usher
I rode on a horse one dull, dark and soundless day in autumn until I came to the melancholy House of Usher. I do not know why but I felt an intolerable gloom. I say intolerable because there was nothing poetic or beautiful about this scene, only the dreary house 5 on the edge of a cliff over a black lake surrounded by dead and rotting trees.
3. Combine fact and fiction
Now, what if you're creating historical fiction or lost civilization? In this case use the information available in books or online about the lives, art, and architecture of your chosen place and era. You can even find books written by people who were living or traveling to your chosen place at that specific time. A good example can be, The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan by James Justinian Morier written in 1824. It's a picaresque romance of Persian life that long influenced English ideas of Persia. Hajji Baba drew on the knowledge of Persia and its people that he had acquired on the British embassy staff at Tehrān (1809–15) and in journeys described in two travel books.
But, sometimes, the archival materials are limited so in this case, you can rely on the work of others who have based their fiction in the same setting. Even if it's a fictional setting, look for details and ideas you can borrow from them. Just don't plagiarize.
Setting in Transgressive Fiction
In Transgressive fiction, as mentioned in Characterization, a character normally plays the main role. However, the impact of the environment is one of the key elements that impact a character's actions and reactions. Palahniuk, in Fight Club, creates a setting for men and their repressed feelings and frustrations about their lives: the fight club. The men in the fight club letting out their aggression in a controlled environment with strict rules, for example, the fight must end when one of the fighters "taps out". This means that the fights taking place in the club were not personal in nature or require extreme physical fitness, but the club acted as more of a "support group". In addition, consumerism as a norm in today's world has a significant impact on Fight Club characters.
In my case, I tend to allow the setting - specifically in short stories - to remain non-specific. I rarely mention the exact geographical place in my stories however, for novels, it is a different story. I’ve come to realize how important it is to use this as a conscious decision on my part. I play with different settings for the Feminomaniacs anthology however all have a dark transgressive mood to them. In some stories, the setting impacts the character such as "Offer", a story that a couple has to decide whether the husband should change his gender for a big amount of money or not. Here, I placed them in an impossible environment: absolute poverty, a terrible house to live in which was rented, and a hurricane that flattened the whole village. This way, I wanted to push them to make a decision.
To conclude, I can add that the setting in Transgressive Fiction can be understood by Foucault‘s theories of society in which societies acting as a "carceral" jail for people. In his book, "Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison", Foucault builds a case for the idea that prison became part of a larger "carceral system" that has become an all-encompassing sovereign institution in modern society. Prison is one part of a vast network, including schools, military institutions, hospitals, and factories, which build a panoptic society for its members. This system creates "disciplinary careers" for those locked within its corridors. Delinquency, indeed, is produced when social petty crime (such as taking wood from the lord's lands) is no longer tolerated, creating a class of specialized "delinquents" acting as the police's proxy in surveillance of society. (Source)