What is the Setting of a Story?

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  • 0:01 What Are Story Elements?
  • 0:44 What Is Setting?
  • 2:21 Using Imagery
  • 2:57 Why Setting Is Important
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

You may have learned about setting in elementary school, but the definition is actually a little more nuanced than just where a story takes place. This lesson explores differing aspects of setting and why it matters.

What Are Story Elements?

All great stories have a few things in common. Certain story elements are common literary techniques that make it worth the read. You may also have heard them referred to as literary elements. They include characters, plot, theme, and setting. Think of the story of Little Red Riding Hood. The characters in this story are Little Red, the Grandmother, and the Big Bad Wolf. The plot involves a little girl taking a walk in the woods and encountering dangerous events, which is connected to the theme of making good choices and listening to adults. The setting you may be familiar with for this story is the woods, specifically the Grandmother's house, but it's a little deeper than that. Let's take a closer look at the setting.

What is Setting?

You probably remember from grade school that the setting is where the story takes place, like the woods or Grandmother's house. Actually, the setting of a story tells the time, place, and duration of a story and is told using techniques like imagery.


When we talk the time in setting, we don't usually mean what time it is on the clock. The time of the setting is broader, like a period. The movie Star Wars is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, for example, and the story Romeo and Juliet is set in the past here on Earth. Time settings can also be an era, such as post-World War II or the gold rush days of the Wild West.


The actual place a story happens is a little more straightforward. Most stories happen in several places, so when we identify the place of a story, the rule of thumb is to find the best way to describe where most of the story takes place. For example, in Star Wars the story is on many different planets; it would be most accurate to say the story takes place in space. In Romeo and Juliet, the characters interact in different houses and public places. It would be best to say the setting is in Verona, the city, instead of the Capulet or Montague family homes.


Don't let the word fool you. Duration doesn't mean how long a story lasts or how many hours you spent reading it. Rather, duration means the time period from the beginning to the end of the story. For some stories this is just a few hours or days; other stories span decades or centuries.

Using Imagery

Writers are crafty folks. Sometimes they come right out and describe the setting to us, but often they weave elements of setting into their writing. They use techniques like imagery, often called sensory language, or descriptive words that play on our senses and allow us to create vivid pictures in our heads. Instead of saying Red Riding Hood walked through a forest, an author may write about the snap of twigs underfoot, the sticky scent of pine, or the canopy of green leaves overhead. Do you see how these examples create an image using your senses like hearing, smell, and sight to imagine the scene?

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