How to Describe the Setting in a Story

Four Parts:Describing the SettingChoosing the Setting in Your StoryUsing Character to Describe SettingSample Setting Descriptions

Setting is one of the three main parts of a story, along with characters and plot. Setting is the location and time of your story. The setting enhances and supports your plot and characters, helping to reveal and further important points and themes.

Part 1
Describing the Setting

  1. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 1
    Ask yourself the 6 W's. When starting to create and describe your setting, start with the 6 W's. On a sheet of paper, jot down the answer to each of these questions to help develop a convincing and effective setting.
    • Where did the story take place?
    • When did the story happen?
    • What's the weather or climate like?
    • What are the social or community conditions?
    • What is the landscape like?
    • What special details make it clear to understand?[1]
  2. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 2
    Decide on a broad or narrow description. How do you describe your setting? Do you use a wide angle camera lens or do you zoom in? Decide what your story needs. Do you need to describe the entire town? Or do you just need to describe the house? Determine which description gives your story the life it needs.
    • Try to describe the wider setting and gradually narrow to a specific location. Go from a description of the country/state/region, then move to the town, then neighborhood of the town.
    • You may also want to go from physical setting to the population by describing the type of people who live in the town. This is a common way to transition from inanimate objects to living beings that think, feel, and care. This starts to give the story meaning.[2]
  3. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 3
    Use the five senses. Use the five senses: touch, sight, smell, sound, and taste. Many writers only use sight, but this is a mistake because it makes the writing two-dimensional. Of course you have to describe the way something looks, but you also need to include descriptions from the other senses as well.
    • Think about what the room smells like. What does the sand feel like under the characters feet? Is the edge of mountain cutting into the character's hands? Describe the way the character's favorite meal tastes.[3]
    • For example: She entered the front parlor. Lady MacDougall sat enthroned like Queen Victoria on a blue chintz-covered settee and motioned Elizabeth to take the matching armchair opposite. The salmon-painted walls made the duchess' white hair glow pink. Elizabeth flinched when a log shifted in the blazing fire in the enormous fireplace surrounded by the marble the previous Lord MacDougall had brought back from Egypt himself.[4]
  4. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 4
    Don't let the setting description get in the way of the story. The setting should enhance the story, not block it. This can happen if you stop in the middle of the scene to provide a lengthy description of the world around the characters. Instead of providing separate setting description in the middle of a scene, describe the setting through the characters' actions. The setting should be integrated along with what the characters are doing.[5]
    • For example, if the character is running from a vampire in the woods, don't stop and describe how scary the woods are. Have the character notice how dark it is and the lack of sound. Have the character trip over an exposed root and get a cut on her cheek from a branch. Focus on how the character can't see anything, but can hear the footsteps behind her. This incorporates the setting with the action so it doesn't block the story.
  5. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 5
    Show, don't tell. Show the setting instead of telling. Don't say, "The desert was hot." Instead, show that the desert was hot by describing the sun burning the character's skin, the heat rising from the sand in waves, and the thick air that is hard to breathe.
    • To do this, use vivid language. Choose nouns and descriptive adjectives to describe the setting. Use concrete action verbs.
    • Telling: The girls were excited.
    • Showing: Giggles and screams filled the arena. The soft curls were now damp with perspiration and the anticipation of the event. They held tight to each other in a mock effort to contain themselves. Arms flailed upward, and voices echoed in varying tones. The moment was here.[6]
  6. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 6
    Focus only on the important setting details. There is such a thing as too much setting description. Refrain from describing things that have no importance to the story and its themes. Instead, make a conscious choice about everything you describe. Each setting description should have a reason for being in the story.

Part 2
Choosing the Setting in Your Story

  1. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 7
    Start with location. Setting includes many things, but the most important to start with is the location. You have to choose somewhere the story happens. The choice of location is extremely important. It sets the mood and comes with connections and stereotypes you can use to support your story, or that you can have your characters fight against.
    • Start by choosing a country, state, region, city, or town. You can be more specific, such as describing a neighborhood or a street. Decide if your location is an urban city, a farm, islands, or mountains.[7]
  2. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 8
    Describe the room. Give the physical details of the house, yard, or room. Use these physical details to describe the character(s). You can also use the physical details to further theme, values, and attitudes.[8]
    • When you do this, setting helps give meaning to your story.
    • For example: The walls were made of dark stone, dimly lit by torches. Empty benches rose on either side of him, but ahead, in the highest benches of all, were many shadowy figures. They had been talking in low voices, but as the heavy door swung closed behind Harry an ominous silence fell.[9]
  3. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 9
    Focus on time setting. Time setting is an important part of your story. This can influence your plot and the behavior of your characters. The following are important time settings to consider:
    • Time of day. Does your story happen in the morning, the middle of the day, or at night? Each time of day has a specific association with it. Also keep in mind the different ways that characters may act at various times in the day.
    • Time of year. Is your story set in the summer, the winter, or the spring? Is it centered around a holiday, like Christmas or Halloween? Time of year can also include the anniversary of a significant historical or personal event.
    • Elapsed time. Think about the transition of time in your story. This includes hours and even months. You have to describe the passing of time through the setting. This can be time progressing as the story unfolds, or situating the reader within a flashback.[10]
  4. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 10
    Describe the weather. Weather can help set the mood for your characters. It can also influence the plot. Describe the temperature, whether it's raining or windy, and even the brightness of the sun.
    • If your story is set in a harsh climate, you need to describe this for your reader. Describe the difficulties of living in the desert or arctic temperatures. Or explain the ease with which someone lives in their beach house.[11]
    • For example: And after all the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more perfect day for a garden-party if they had ordered it. Windless, warm, the sky without a cloud. Only the blue was veiled with a haze of light gold, as it is sometimes in early summer. The gardener had been up since dawn, mowing the lawns and sweeping them, until the grass and the dark flat rosettes where the daisy plants had been seemed to shine.[12]
  5. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 11
    Explore the geography. The geography of a story is important. If there are certain trees, flowers, or food that grow in the area, describe them. Think about why it's important to the character and plot to live in this geography.[13]
    • Think about geographical formations, like mountains, rivers, lakes, or forests. The character should interact with these things and they should be important to the story. Otherwise, ask yourself why you are setting the story there in the first place.
  6. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 12
    Include historical, social, and cultural settings. If you are writing a historical story, you must describe the setting within the paradigm of the historical era. This includes the way the world looked at that moment, but also the way technology was and the way people acted.
    • Think about social and political settings. This is important for a modern or historical story. These things influence the values and actions of the characters.
    • Cultural settings can include religion, traditions, and community interaction. Population of your location can play into this. Is the place densely populated, or is it remote?[14]

Part 3
Using Character to Describe Setting

  1. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 13
    Describe setting through action. Use your character to describe the setting. As the character moves through a scene, have her notice the setting around her. What does she immediately notice? What does she notice later? Have your character physically interact with the environment instead of just stating something is in the room.[15]
    • Have the character react to the setting. This can provide important character and plot development.
  2. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 14
    Use the character's experience to describe setting. Different people will see things differently. Decide how your particular character will describe something. This influences the way you describe the setting.[16]
    • A native New Yorker would describe the subway very differently than someone from a southern, rural farm. Decide whose point of view you want to describe the scene from and why it's important to get that character's perspective.
  3. Image titled Describe the Setting in a Story Step 15
    Build the setting through a character's mood. The mood and personality of your character affects the way you describe the scene. Think about how the character would view the setting and how they would feel about it.[17]
    • Think about how a high school freshman and senior would view a school dance. The freshman might be excited because it's her first dance, while a senior may groan and complain about being there. A kid who has been bullied may be afraid of going to the dance in case the people who bully him are there, while the popular president of the student council is excited to see all her friends at the dance.
    • Plot events can also affect the mood of the character. A forest stroll in the afternoon may be a relaxing event for one character, while another character may be lost in the woods and be scared.

Sample Setting Descriptions

Sample Country Setting Description

Sample Urban Setting Description

Sample Office Setting Description


  • Don't choose a setting for a story just because you believe it sounds right. It may be more suitable for your story if you use a small home as a setting rather than an extravagant place, like a castle.
  • Position your setting behind your characters. Though it adds atmosphere and context, readers are more fond of the movement of the character and the plot. The setting should enhance the characters and plot.

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