Setting is a major element that needs to be considered when planning a story. Because it is where the character lives and acts out the plot.
I don’t address setting fully in my planning until I know both the characters and the plot. While some things can’t happen in certain settings and some things can happen in any setting, there are conventions about setting based on genre:
A contemporary story needs modern places and modern details. You might have to research these if you don’t know the town, city, or country very well already. But you will need to list and describe various settings, like housing, businesses, street activity, things your characters use/do in their life.
A historical story needs a historical place and details. Pay particular attention to things that are different from modern life. You’ll need to research these. Include housing, street conditions, daily life patterns and rituals.
A fantasy story needs fantastical places and details, like how magic works (or doesn’t), how the community is structured, and how daily life is structured that makes it different from “human” and things like that. Similar to fantasy, science fiction needs any differences from contemporary earth-bound life described, such as space stations, planetary landscapes and societies encountered, and futuristic technology described.
Adding Setting to your Plans
Make separate notecards (or separate heading pages in a word processing file) for each physical element you will include in your setting. Think like a director giving details to the set designer in these notes. Give everything they need to recreate the place physically, focus only on the elements that the characters will interact with when talking about props. The set designer can add other elements, but the detailed ones are the ones that will be important to the storytelling.
Add a setting description to each scene you’ve already plotted – use the headings from the notecards so you’re not writing double. Write wherever the scene should take place: in a bar, a forest glade, a back alley, in the middle of a lake?
Scripts do this with the line: Interior – Lucy’s home – PRESENT DAY. For your plotting notes, you can do the same.
Ready, set, WRITE
Now that you have characters, plot, and setting, you’re ready to write.
To start, go to the first page with a scene heading and notes at the top. Underneath start typing out the scene until its finished. You’ll have all the character goal notes, the conflict notes, and the setting notes you’ll need right there. The next time you sit to write you can finish the scene if needed, or move on to the next one by scrolling down to the next heading.
If you are looking for an example of how to write a scene that includes character, plot/conflict, and setting all in one, here’s a scene which includes all of these color-coded to show you how each element is slid in smoothly among the others.
if you’re doing NaNoWriMo, good luck. If you’ve just come by for the planning tips, let me know how the tips worked out when you’ve finished writing your first draft.