How Setting Shapes the Characters & Plot Video

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  • 0:01 Setting in Literature
  • 1:30 The Setting and the Plot
  • 2:34 The Setting and the…
  • 3:11 The Setting and the Characters
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

You have probably learned the definition of setting in literature, but do you know how important it can be to a story? This lesson describes how a setting can influence the plot, the tone, the theme, and the characters.

Setting in Literature

In literature, many pieces unite in order to make an interesting tale. One of those pieces is the setting, which is the place, the time, and the social situation in which a story takes place. More specifically, the place is the location, the time is when the story takes place, and the social situation is the cultural environment. It is important to examine all three parts to the setting of any story to fully understand how a setting impacts a piece of literature. For instance, an example of a complete setting is New York City, the summer of 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression. New York City is the place, the summer of 1932 is the time, and the Great Depression is the social situation.

For most stories, the setting is an essential characteristic. Oftentimes, changing the setting will drastically impact the story. Let's use the novel Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as an example. This book consists of diary entries written by a Jewish girl during the Holocaust of World War II. The diary describes how Anne and her family hid from the Nazis in order to escape the death sentence of the concentration camps. Would the story be the same if the setting was changed? What if it was written ten years earlier, or took place in the United States? The story would have been much different due to these changes in setting. This shows how important the setting can be to any piece of literature. So how does the setting influence the plot and the characters?

The Setting and the Plot

In order to fully comprehend the impact of the setting, let's first examine how it influences the plot, which is the sequence of events or main actions in a story. Close your eyes and imagine you are alone in an old, abandoned house in the dead of night. The wind rustles the trees outside, which lightly tap against the creaking house. With this setting, what type of actions would you expect to occur? Perhaps a ghost will appear, or a murderer will attack. These are examples of plots that might occur in this particular setting.

On the other hand, imagine you visit a crowded shopping mall. People push past you and salesmen entice customers with deals. A group of kids hangs out at the fountain, laughing and joking around. What type of actions do you expect to happen in this setting? Would you expect a ghost to jump out at you here? Definitely not!

Settings have a major impact on what occurs in a story's plot. Certain actions will be unrealistic at each of these sites, like the ghost in the shopping mall. In this way, the setting influences a story's plot.

The Setting and the Tone and the Theme

In addition, certain details of the setting will create a story's tone, which we define as the general quality or attitude of a story. The setting of an old creaky house produces a creepy or scary tone, while the setting of a mall is more harmless. A story's setting also plays a part in its theme, which is the main message or idea of a story and is universal. For instance, if the author's theme is revenge through murder, the creepy old house setting would be appropriate. However, if the author is focusing on the theme of friendship among teenagers, the setting in the crowded mall is much more appropriate.

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