The Fictional Narrative: Discovering Setting

Contributor: Kristen Gardiner. Lesson ID: 10518

Where are you located right now? In your room, your house, your town, planet Earth? You can't be nowhere, and neither can characters in stories! Learn how to set up locations, or settings, in stories!

categories

Writing

subject
English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Primary (K-2)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:
  1. It is completely dark except for my sister's night light, the downstairs hall light, and what little moonlight crept in through the closed blinds.
  2. I hear my dad snoring and my little sister mumbling in her sleep.
  3. I run my hands along the smooth walls and down the banister. When I reach the bottom of the stairs, I keep one hand on a wall and the other outstretched to serve as my eyes.
  4. The tile floor is cold on my bare feet.
  5. I can still smell the cookies even though it's been hours since Mom took them out of the oven.
  6. I sit on the cool tile floor and slowly eat the OATMEAL RASIN? I WASTED ALL THIS FOR OATMEAL RAISIN? I RISKED GETTING PUNISHED FOR OATMEAL RAISIN? THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE CHOCOLATE CHIP!
  7. Disappointed, I curl up under the table after choking down the cookie.

What time is it? Where am I? What's the mood?

When reading the sentences above, were you able to get a sense of where and when the action is taking place?

Welcome to the third lesson in our The Fictional Narrative series. If you have not yet completed, or wish to review, the first lessons, here they are: The Fictional Narrative: An Introduction, and The Fictional Narrative: Character Development, please go back and do that now.

The setting of a piece of fiction writing tellthe reader when and where the story is happening. Setting also gives an idea of how the characters feel about their situation in general. Setting sets the mood of the story.

Let's take a look at the sentences above to learn more about setting. You were probably able to figure out that the majority of the action takes place in a kitchen at night where a kid (we don't know if it is a boy or a girl) sneaks downstairs to get a cookie.

Take a sentence-by-sentence look to read what types of details are used to give us this information:

It is completely dark except for my sister's night light, the downstairs hall light, and what little moonlight crept in through the closed blinds.

The two key items here are the sister's night light and the moonlight. This tells the reader that the time is very late at night. Notice that the first-person narrator is using his or her sense of sight to give the reader this detail about setting.

I hear my dad snoring and my little sister mumbling in her sleep.

This sentence helps the reader get a better sense of what is happening. Not only is it very late at night, it's past his or her bed time. Everyone else in the house is fast asleep and he or she is all alone in the dark. The narrator uses his or her sense of hearing to let the reader know this detail.

  • How do you feel when you are the only one awake at night?

Some people are afraid of the dark.

  • Do you think the narrator is afraid of the dark?

I run my hands along the smooth walls and down the banister. When I reach the bottom of the stairs, I keep one hand on a wall and the other outstretched to serve as my eyes.

This passage lets the reader know just how dark it is in his or her house at night. It's so dark that he or she must use his or her hands as eyes. Here, the narrator uses the sense of touch to help describe his or her journey through the setting.

The tile floor is cold on my bare feet.

This sentence gives the reader the narrator's destination.

  • What room in a house usually has a cold tile floor and is located away from the bedrooms?

That's right, the kitchen. Again, the narrator tells us what he or she feels with his or her sense of touch to let us know something about the setting.

  • Hmmm ... What could our narrator be doing in the kitchen in the middle of the night?
  • What might he or she be feeling or thinking?
  • Have you picked up on any mood yet?

I can still smell the cookies even though it's been hours since Mom took them out of the oven.

We have a motive: cookies! Cookies that are not meant to be eaten by our narrator. Our narrator lets us know that the smell is still in the air, and we all know how good freshly-baked cookies smell!

  • See how our narrator uses his or her sense of smell to draw the reader into the whole mood of the story?
  • Are you beginning to feel part of the setting now?

I sit on the cool tile floor and slowly eat the OATMEAL RAISIN? I WASTED ALL THIS FOR OATMEAL RAISIN? I RISKED GETTING PUNISHED FOR OATMEAL RAISIN? THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE CHOCOLATE CHIP!

Uh oh, our narrator hit a snag in his or her plan! We were about to get a taste of those cookies, but they were not what our narrator was expecting! We do, however, get deeper into the mood and emotion of the setting.

  • How does the narrator feel?
  • Have you ever expected to get one thing and ended up with something completely unwanted instead?
  • How did you feel?
  • Can you relate to this feeling?

Disappointed, I curl up under the table after choking down the cookie.

In the final sentence, the narrator tells us outright how he or she feels. However, the mood did change during the course of the short narrative!

All of these elements help to draw the reader into the story and affect the character's actions.


Setting: location

You have the task of writing a narrative from one of the seven dwarf's point-of-view. One of the biggest decisions you will need to make is where your story will take place. Because this is a piece of fiction, you have the freedom to pick any location anywhere on this earth and beyond.

  • Will it take place in the same fairy tale realm?
  • Or maybe outer space?

You can go to Middle Earth or make your very own special place.

The most important thing to remember when you create setting is to use as much sensory detail as possible:

  • When you look around, what do you see?
  • What sounds do you hear?
  • Are there things to touch that contribute to the setting? What do they feel like?
  • Is there a specific smell in the air?
  • Taste — This one is difficult unless you have lickable wallpaper like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If you do have the opportunity to describe how something tastes, be sure to do it!

Sensory detail can be difficult to describe, especially if you are creating your own setting. In the previous lesson, The Fictional Narrative: Character Development, we reviewed using our describing words. We reviewed adjectives to describe nouns and adverbs to describe verbs.


Two literary devices that can help describe unfamiliar things are simile and metaphor.

Both compare two things; in this case, you would compare an unfamiliar person, place, thing, or idea with a familiar person, place, thing, or idea.

The difference between the two literary devices is that similes use the words "like" and "as" to make the comparison.

Similes

  • The people in the new land are as tall as skyscrapers.
  • Her skin was scaly like a dragon.
  • The sky is as green as grass, and the grass is as pink as a flamingo.

Metaphors simply say one thing is another without using "like" or "as":

  • The crystal mountains are bright blue chunks of rock candy in the distance.
  • His head is a giant pumpkin with eyes and hair.
  • The new planet is a giant ball of green Jell-O.

Here's a "Smiles and Metaphors" video by the Bazillions video to help you gain a better understanding of similes and metaphors:

 

Setting: time

When you begin thinking about creating a setting for your dwarf story, you need to think about when the story takes place.

When you write fiction, you have the freedom to decide if you would like your story to take place

  • in the past, before he joined the other six dwarfs and met Snow White
    If so, how far in the past?
  • during the time he knew Snow White
    At which point in the story will you pick up from the dwarf's point of view?
  • in the future
    How far into the future?

Setting: mood

The final element of setting is mood — the overall emotional feeling you get when you read the story.

Think about how you want your readers to feel when they read your story about your dwarf.

  • Are your time and place happy ones or sad ones?
  • Is it a place that is full of joy and hope?
  • Are the people at peace?
  • Is it a place of great dread and sorrow?
  • Is there a war?
  • Are the people poor or sickly?

In the short passage above, we read that our narrator went downstairs in the middle of the night to get a cookie. At first, he or she is a little nervous, anxious, and even excited. By the time he or she gets the cookie — and it's not what he or she expected — he or she is disappointed and that whole feeling of nervous anticipation vanishes.

Setting and mood working together

Setting is important for setting the mood of a story. Think about a scary story — An old house filled with dust and cobwebshelps make it even more frightening, especially if the story happens on Halloween night. Similarly, outer space, a jungle, and Wild West types of settings can help create an adventurous mood in adventure stories.

Keep your character in mind

You are on your way to piecing together a whole story. You need to keep your character — and any thoughts you have about your character — in mind when you create your setting. The setting of a story also tells us who else we can expect to meet in the story. For example, in a story set in a graveyard, there might be a ghost. Or a story that takes place in medieval times (when most fairy tales take place) might be about a princess and a dragon. A cowboy might be the main character in a story that happens in the Wild West. Alien robots who try to control the world could be characters in a story set in the future. So think carefully about secondary characters and what your dwarf may do in this place you create.

Continue on to the Got It? section to get to work on the setting for your story!

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