Things to Think About When You Choose Your Setting

Last night was the second night of Settings for my Twitter chat, #smutchat. We don’t just talk about smut, we talk about lots of things about the craft, and where you set your story was one of the topics.

How do you know where your story is going to take place?


Generally, this is a no-brainer. If you’re writing fantasy, more than likely your characters are going to move around a world that resembles medieval times.  A story with a Prince cursed with magical powers who needed to fend off an evil sorceress wouldn’t have the same feel if it were set in present-day New York City. Along those lines, if you are writing a time-traveling saga, the historical periods you choose for them to travel to will play a huge role in where your story will take place. A contemporary romance wouldn’t be contemporary if you set your story in 1700 England.  You get the idea.

But when we talk about settings, we need to dig deeper than just the time and the place. The smaller details can have a huge impact on your story.

When I chose to write Summer Secrets, the first thing that popped into my head were couples on a vacation at a fishing resort.  I didn’t think beyond that setting other than each couple stayed in their own cabin, and each couple would have their own story. But as I began writing, I noticed how this setting both positively and negatively affected my characters.



For every positive, there was a negative. They were on vacation, which meant they were relaxed, in a good mood. But as the story went on, the characters also got bored, and they rubbed on each other’s nerves. This created conflict that I didn’t foresee, but it was great planning on my part all the same.

In this vein I also didn’t realize exactly what cutting them off from other people would do. They were forced to talk to each other, whether they were tired of each other or not. As the title suggests, each couple kept secrets from each other and forcing my characters to talk because they didn’t have anyone else to talk to created some very tense dialogue, and of course, the unveiling of those secrets.

The setting caused some issues for people vacationing from the city: my characters got lost while hiking, bit by bugs, almost drowned, were hurt from falling in terrain they weren’t accustomed to.  Putting my characters into another environment would have worked too, so long as they were strangers to that environment so it would have caused outside conflict that they had to handle along with the internal conflict of being pushed together.

Choosing a lake resort gave my characters plenty of room for themselves where they thought things through, assumed things, came to erroneous conclusions. The seclusion also made my characters feel even more alone with their problems and secrets.  On the flip side, they also found peace being away from city life.


When you think of your setting, look at it as a character in its own right. And when you create your setting be it world building for a fantasy, or choosing a city for your romance novel, think of some of these things:

  1. How will it positively affect your characters? Your character moves to the city of her dreams. Your male MC moves next door to the girl he’s always wanted to marry. Your character wins a trip on a cruise, or your knight on a quest finds a prosperous kingdom.
  2. How will your setting negatively affect your characters?  Your MC’s mother moves next door and makes your MC’s life a living hell.  Your MC’s boss hits on her at work, so now she views her workplace as a nightmare she must go to every day until she finds another job. The mansion your MC inherits from her uncle is haunted.
  3. How will the setting make your character feel?  An empty lake could exaggerate a character’s feeling of loneliness. A hospital setting could remind your character of an accident from his childhood and he feels fear when visiting his sick sister. A crowded room could make your character feel anxious and claustrophobic–maybe she was abused as a child and locked in a closet.
  4. Incorporate all the senses when writing about your setting.  Sight is the most common because we’re writers and we describe what our characters see. But what do they smell when they enter a diner? Greasy fish that turns her stomach? Visiting her mother’s home, does the smell of apple pie bring her back to her high school days after school?  Does your MC love her cat, but hates when her cat licks her because the cat’s tongue is too rough for her sunburnt skin? Does the music playing from a car passing by remind her of a date gone wrong?
  5. Setting can help you weave backstory into your character’s lives and novel. A man must go back to his hometown and gradually we learn why he left in the first place.

For me, the setting will pop into my head along with the characters and some of the plot. When I went to California, it was my first time in LAX and I was curious if I was going to see any celebrities (I didn’t), but being in an airport I had never been in before made a story pop into my head, characters, plot and all.  I’m champing at the bit to write it.


In this day of technology with Google and Google maps, it’s easier than ever to set a story where you’ve never been. You can go anywhere the world; the setting for your next story is at your fingertips.

How do you decide on your setting?

More tips on choosing your setting:

A Fun Interview with Jewel E. Leonard about her book, Rays of Sunshine!

Jewel's FB Author Pic

Today I interviewed Jewel E. Leonard about her book, Rays of Sunshine. We’re talking about Settings for #smutchat this week, and I was interested in how she came to choose her setting for Tales by Rails, her first novella in the book. Listen in to how she wrote her steamy story!


What have you been working on lately?

I am up to my neck in edits for the second book of The Witches’ Rede series. Mostly now I’m writing scenes I failed to get to when I originally wrote this book several years ago during NaNoWriMo. I consider it punishment for a job not-well-done. (Just kidding. Sorta.)
This book was a dumpster fire the way I left it, and I’m pleased to say it’s turning out superbly well with my edits.

#SmutChat’s theme this week is settings. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on Tales by Rails. Your novella is set on a train. How did you choose that location?

To be honest, I gave it little thought; it seemed the natural choice.
When I started writing Tales by Rails, I really didn’t have anything planned for it as it started with what became the opening lines of narration that popped into my head just as I was falling asleep one night. Then as more of the story started coming to me, placing the–ahem–action on a train was a little bit fantasy fulfillment for yours truly.

Have you traveled by train before? (If you have, how was your experience?)

Oh absolutely, many times–California to Pennsylvania and back (twice), California to New Hampshire and back, California to Nebraska and back, Arizona to Texas and back. Like Surfer Boy, I don’t fly.
My experiences with Amtrak have been wildly variable … I wouldn’t recommend taking the train unless you can afford a private “roomette,” as they call the downstairs cabins (Superliners, like the one in Tales by Rails, have two stories–some coach seats downstairs with the roomettes, and coach seats all on the second level).
I had a few trips where nothing went horribly wrong, and some trips where Murphy’s Law was the rule of the rails.
Lost luggage, the dining car splitting from the train and leaving passengers with nothing but the snack car for sustenance, no air conditioning in the heat, heater turned full-blast at night and nothing to be done about it, smokers sneaking cigarettes on board (Amtrak is strictly non-smoking now and was at that time), smoking section sharing a car with a non-smoking section because clearly the smoke will be so kind as to stop at some invisible barrier (this was back in the days before Amtrak went non-smoking), old seats eager to snap at a finger if you tried to recline them, and don’t get me started on the state of the bathrooms at the end of several thousand miles … and there was one trip where we were pretty sure the train was breaking speed limits to get through nasty weather through the Midwest, which spurred a conversation about what happens should a tornado meet a train that scared passengers around us (oopsie) …
Having said all that–a good trip on Amtrak is well worth the fare and yes, I miss going, and double-yes, I sometimes wish I could just drop everything and run away the way Rhea does at the beginning of Tales by Rails.

Did you find yourself restricted in any way by the setting while you were writing?

With the train layover in Albuquerque enabling Surfer Boy to run to a nearby convenience store for some necessities not sold aboard the train, no, I really didn’t feel especially restricted.
Picking compact quarters was also a tip I picked up from a theater class I took as an elective at a community college a few years ago. The plays we studied all took place in one room, generally with more characters than can comfortably fit in them.
Combining tight spaces and two strangers with undeniable chemistry is a quick and dirty way to create tension. In my case, sexual tension.
And yeah, you’d better believe all that entendre was deliberate. 😉

What did you like most about the setting?

I found the setting especially conducive to speeding along the “natural course of events” between Surfer Boy and Rhea, when it almost certainly would have progressed far more slowly under other circumstances. When you’ve got a first-time rail-rider who didn’t especially prepare for her trip, there’s really very little to do if you’re not interested in talking to random people in an Amtrak observation car.
Basically, to be blunt, “trapped” in a tiny Amtrak roomette, if Rhea and Surfer Boy weren’t entertaining each other, they were bored out of their minds.

The sequel to Tales by Rails, Smiles by Trials, is not set on a train. How different was your experience writing the two books?

Smiles by Trials was more difficult … but not only did I expand Rhea’s world into a slightly fictionalized version of Illinois, I introduced several new characters with an assortment of complications, each, and the short novel spanned many months. It was more complicated all around, but more rewarding and–to my shock–seems to be more well-received than the novella that came before it.

Do you think you will write about trains in the future?

Seeing as I’m writing in the old west for The Witches’ Rede, including (steam) trains seems necessary. The railyards of Tucson are featured in book one (with a scene on a west-bound train omitted from the beginning), and there’s quite a bit of train that pops up in book two, with a rather —–never mind that. That’s spoilery. 😉
But yes, trains seem to be a staple in my writing these days, though I imagine that will change once The Witches’ Rede is complete.

Thank you, Jewel, for taking the time to answer some questions and for giving away a paperback copy of Rays of Sunshine during #smutchat this week! Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and bookmark her website.  Take a moment to subscribe to her newsletter to stay up to date on everything she has going on this year!

Her books are available on Amazon! Don’t forget to check them out!