Level Up Your Setting

· resources,world building,setting

Sure, your story’s setting is a big part of world building. The two definitely go hand in hand.But what makes a setting pop out of the pages and live in reader’s minds? It’s a little bit more than just building a complete world that relates to your character. 

Like many authors, I believe that the setting should behave like it’s very own character. Seems complicated? Don’t worry, It’s totally doable.​​

If you’d asked me about the importance of setting in my writing a few years ago, I probably would’ve shrugged and said “It’s there!”


Setting is such an important part of this book! Because the sled race and planet are loosely based on the Iditarod and Alaska, I had a real example of what the setting would be like to really live in. 

And as I drafted, that setting grew and grew the more I added creepy forests and deadly predators. It really took on a life of its own. 

During revisions, I expanded more on the setting and made sure that when I mentioned the ice or the storms, my descriptions of them showed their aggressiveness, showed them like they had a personality.

 Here’s an example from an early chapter: 

“The ice here is crawling up the dilapidated concrete, climbing up the side of the building, like graffiti on the walls.”

I chose deliberate words like “crawl” and “climb” to make it seem like the ice itself is alive.You can do this with any part of your setting, whether it’s something in the environment or the weather. You can also give the buildings personality through short descriptions. Like in the example above, I included the detail “dilapidated concrete” so readers get a strong image of what even the buildings look like in their minds. 

If you’re writing about a lush forest that’s dangerous, you might have a line like: 

“vines wrapping around trees like they want to choke the very bark itself.” 

Notice I chose the word ‘wrapping.’ This is a very active verb. I could’ve used ‘creeping’ or ‘growing’ but those verbs are a little less action-oriented. I tend to go for verbs or even descriptive words that have more action in them, especially for worlds that are dangerous or oppressive. 

Maybe the world you’re creating is beautiful rather than dangerous. You could pick words that evoke softer feelings of warmth, something like: 

“Ivy blossomed across the ancient tomb, a lush and living blanket protecting its hidden secrets.”

Or maybe you’re writing a space opera and the characters spend a lot of time on a ship. Is the ship homey and cozy or is it sparse and empty? The words you pick should reflect the feeling you want your readers to get when they’re in that place with those characters. 

Do you have other examples of great settings? Or have questions about your own story? Tell me on Twitter or Instagram. Let’s nerd out about cool settings!


Like this article? A version of this post appeared in a past issue of Meg's newsletter: Wolves and Wonder. If you like this content, sign up now to get more like it directly in your inbox!