Story world? What happened to plain old setting?

In this whole novel writing process, I’ve learned a whole new term – story world.  What happened to plain old setting?  I teach high school English and one of the basic standards is that a story takes place in a setting ie. it has a place, a time, and a mood.  However, novelists apparently don’t place their novels in a mere setting, they create a world.  I actually like this idea, though I think it’s interesting that the production end of books (novelists) have a different language and possibly even definition of place and time in their novels than the receiving end (readers) – well, maybe not all readers but at least the English teacher types like myself who have to teach literary terms!

One of the loveliest elements of a great novel is to be carried away to a new place, to really live and get a sense of that place and time.  That’s one of the reasons I read.  So I’ve decided that the idea of a story world is much more interesting than a mere setting.  But I’m learning that creating an entire “world” is tough!  It can’t be too vast, filled with boring descriptions, not detailed enough, or full of irrelevant or gratuitous details.  In thinking about this, I’ve decided that great writers make both vast and confined story worlds feel intimate and incredibly relevant to the characters.  A specific character in a great novel just could not experience this story in any other possible place or time.   Can you imagine Scarlett O’Hara in any place or time than the south during the Civil War? Or, Frodo any place other than Middle Earth? I can’t.  Mitchell and Tolkein so beautifully created their worlds that the characters live there, and we can’t possibly imagine them any other place or time!  Now, I just have to figure out how to do that.  My setting is vast and encompasses a journey, so the story world is physically shifting as the main character progresses across the terrain, but she also evolves emotionally.  This adds a whole new element of . . . ack!!!  I have a changing setting that must remain as vast as it is but with relevance and intimacy to the story and the characters.   I think I’m going to put my scrapbooking skills to work this weekend and create a giant map to put on my wall to get started with this world.  I need a visual.  I’ll let you know how it goes.


6 thoughts on “Story world? What happened to plain old setting?

    1. I am – thank you! My map is still a very rough sketch though. I decided I need to research some more (and I also need to get rid of this sinus infection so I can focus without falling asleep!).


  1. Structure is good, but not too much. Leave room for your reader to create some of the world. As you pointed out, you couldn’t imagine Scarlett O’Hara or Frodo being in any other place. Allowing your readers to imagine their own version of your world gives them a more intimate and personal reading experience. I can hardly wait to read your story.


    1. That’s a good point – thanks. I hadn’t really thought of that, but I don’t think an author can completely cover every single detail. Part of the reading experience is imagination. If someone doesn’t want to imagine the story, they can watch the movie, right?


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