Elements of Setting: Locale

Ciao, SEers! The last time we met, we talked about time. Today, we’re moving on to the next of the four elements of setting: locale.

“Locale” is the answer to “where” your story takes place. This is both on the grand scale and on the small.

Grand Scale Locale

When we talk about the grand scale, we’re talking about your global position. Possibly even your cosmic location.

Global locales are simple. Where in the world are you? What continent, country, state, city, and street? We know Sherlock Holmes lived at 221B Baker Street in Victorian London. (Holmes fans might also know that the address was an imaginary one. While Baker Street existed then, the number 221 did not.) Many probably recognize 1313 Mockingbird Lane or 12 Grimmauld Place. What about the Cupboard under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey?

I’m not saying you have to give your characters an address, real or imaginary. But telling us Jim is in a brownstone walk-up in Boston gives us an idea of his community. And of him. Saying he lives in a penthouse overlooking Central Park paints a different picture. As does a loft along the wharf or a studio shared with three others off Broadway. What about a one-bedroom Cape Cod in Connecticut? A four-bedroom Craftsman in Portland? A log cabin on ten thousand pristine acres in Pierre?

I’m sure you pictured Jim differently in each home. That’s why even a mention of global locale, real or imaginary, helps to define character.

When I say “cosmic” locale, I’m thinking about science fiction epics. These might take place on Jupiter’s moon Io, or planet PA-99-N2 in the Andromeda galaxy, or a a completely fictitious planet (or space station) in a totally made-up solar system on the other side of the universe. You’ll still want to include more details about Jim’s immediate setting, but at least we’ll have an idea of what issues he might encounter and what kind of life he lives.

Small Scale Locale

In the last paragraph, I mentioned giving more details about where Jim is. Those would help us define the small scale. By that, I mean is he huddled under the covers in his bedroom? Sitting on a park bench? Lying on a hammock at the beach? Freezing at an ice fishing hole?

The small scale details you choose to include do help ground the reader, but they also can advance the plot. Remember Chekhov’s gun. If you choose to draw attention to a revolver in a desk drawer at the beginning of the book, someone better use it by the end.

I think you can see how both the grand scale locale and the small scale can help readers relate to your characters as well as help to advance your plot. Next time, we’ll discuss setting as it relates to atmosphere. In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you use locale effectively in your work. Let’s talk about it below.

By the way, the answers to the addresses are:
• 1313 Mockingbird Lane (Munsters)
• 12 Grimmauld Place (Sirius Black)
• Cupboard under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey (Harry Potter)

Staci Troilo bio

61 thoughts on “Elements of Setting: Locale

  1. Pingback: Elements of Setting: Atmosphere | Story Empire

  2. I wanted an interesting city in which to set my books, and I went with the most interesting one that I knew. My other favorite setting is the bar where I meet an imaginary friend on Saturday. I think most people can relate to a bar setting, even it’s been a while since they’ve been in one. The hard part, like Yvette says, is finding the balance between enough and too much.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Locale is definitely important. It’s an added texture, color, or tone to the story you’re creating. In one of my current works in progress, the main character lives in a trailer park in West Memphis, Arkansas. It hints at her station in life, without having to say she is of meager means. Setting is such an important piece to any story. This is a fine post, Staci.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m a visual writer and reader, Staci, so locale is important to me in both cases. I “see” books versus read them. I love how choices in locale contribute to information about the characters as well as the theme, tone, and tension of a story. Your examples of our different impressions of Jim were great. Excellent post!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Terrific post, Staci! I love being able to envision each and every scene that takes place in a book. Sometimes, only a line or two is needed, but I enjoy more, if it creates atmosphere around the characters, or impacts their behavior.

    For myself, I write about places I know very well, like the habitat and wildlife along central Florida rivers, or the rocky views from a ridge in the North Carolina mountains. My characters live and/or make their living along those rivers, or from those mountaintops, so the settings factor into their daily lives. I definitely like to describe them. Might be too much for some folks, but I aim for readers to feel like they’re standing right there on the spot, watching everything goes on, as it occurs. I guess that’s because it’s what I enjoy when I’m reading, but I realize not every reader feels the same way.

    Thanks for making me stop and think about it all. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s a sliding scale, for sure, from no description to way too much. I’d imagine most reader fall somewhere in the middle, but there will always be readers who gravitate toward writers who are description-heavy and those who prefer a minimalist style. Nothing wrong with that. For every story there’s an audience. And while I definitely prefer the middle, I find your writing engaging, so your “preferences” can clearly move on the scale when the writing is as good as your is. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Marcia.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a fan of locale (large scale and smaller). It can really make the book for me, especially when a writer takes the time to immerse me in it with amazing detail. I tend to be a fan of description (both as a reader and a writer). I see Ray mentioned Drood by Dan Simmons. I loved that book! Simmons also did an excellent job with locale in The Terror.

    And I often think back to how Dorthy Dunnett transported me to Tsarist Russia in the Ringed Castle.

    Great post, Staci!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I freely admit that I am a bit of a weirdo, but I enjoy description. I always remember reading Peter Camenzind by Herman Hesse where he takes three chapters to describe the cloud he is watching. I loved it, many put the book aside at that point. Recently I loved “Drood” by Dan Simmons, one of the few books that have received a five-star review from me. Many others complained about the lengthy descriptive passages and the histories of each of the characters. Yet there is obviously a small cadre of people who enjoy this type of thing, and few write for us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There’s an audience for almost everything (maybe everything). I love that you proclaim your preferences so freely. Those books probably wouldn’t appeal to me, but like you said, there is a percentage of the audience for whom it works. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ray.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. My wife detests my reading matter.
        Lol but it is worth noting that “Herman Hesse”, one of those mentioned, won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the other “Dan Simmons” has won the HUGO, BFS, Bram Stoker, Nebula and Locus awards. Both noted in “The top fifty writers who ever lived” (Spectator Magazine 2019)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, your wife doesn’t have to like what you read. And given those accolades, it sounds like those authors have a much bigger following than just a “small cadre.” I’m glad you shared your take on the topic, Ray.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Staci 🙂 I like to take small moments with a character to appreciate the locale they are in whether they like where they are at or not. It can end up being important if where they are if it somehow adds a challenge. Also, we understand the character better if how an old house, apartment, tent, or log cabin might affect them in some way. It adds to my involvement in a story when reading 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post, Staci. You underscored the importance of setting the stage through excellent examples. Thank you. I try to establish the locale in my stories, but I could do better. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I write a lot of cozy mysteries, so a small-town feel contributes a lot to the atmosphere. People know each other. The crimes are more personal, no drive-by shootings or big city hustle like P.I.s often have. No gore. That’s why I like them.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Locale is so important to a story. I hate reading books where I feel like the characters are in “white space.” There’s much more to writing than dialogue and action. The books I’ve enjoyed most over the years not only had a compelling story and polished writing, but vivid descriptions that transported me to the very location.

    Great post, Staci.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This post resonated with me, Staci. Location is so important to ground the reader. It helps the writer, too, especially if we’ve never been to the setting. In my WIP, my characters drove cross-country from New Hampshire to Alaska. Each stop along the way required tons of research to make it work. Much more research than I expected, with having to learn about the flora and fauna of each state. But the story would lose its richness if I breezed over the setting.

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  13. You did a great job pointing out the importance of locale, Staci. I tend to want a balance between not adequately setting the stage and having the locale take on character status. I need to work on refining my locale descriptions, so I found this post to be a thought generator. Thanks,

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It’s so interesting reading this post, as I did picture Jim differently in each suggested locale. Thinking about books I’ve read, it’s easy to see how important it is and how it adds so much to the development of the characters. Just knowing where they live gives an immediate visual. I like to set that for the reader in the first chapter of the book. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but, as a reader, I want to know where the characters are. Great post, Staci. Thank you for focusing on this important aspect of storytelling.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I mentioned in another reply that I am much better about scene-setting in the beginning of the book than I am in the middle or end. It’s something I’m working on. I’m glad this post resonated with you. Thanks, Jan.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I tend to taper off, too. I feel like once I’ve described a room, readers should picture it anytime we’re there. And that’s not necessarily the case. I need to be better about adding a detail or two even in later chapters. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Craig.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I’ve just finished reading Where the Crawdads Sing, and Delia Owens brought the swamp and marsh to life so well it was another character in the book. So powerful. And it definitely defined the main character.

    Great post with excellent points, Staci. I think my most described and powerful locale was the forest in my book The Glade. Sometimes, I’m guilty of not giving locale enough attention. I look forward to your next post! Thanks for sharing. Have a wonderful weekend 💕🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m guilty of the same thing sometimes, Harmony. I think you did a great job with the forest in The Glade. And I’m also with you on authors doing such a good job that the setting becomes a character. What an immersive experience. Those are always favorite books. Thanks for sharing that.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Locale fortifies the story. For my Diasodz series, I wanted their Earth life to have that small town feel while the Diasodz’s home planet needed to feel vast and advanced yet still homey. HYPE was set in a high school, which made it clear what could be expected for the characters’ personalities (well, most of them). 😉 I love books that put enough description to make me feel as if I’m there but not so much description that I’m reading a half page about the color of the china cup. Lol! Great post, Staci! 🙂

    Yvette M Calleiro 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Pingback: Elements of Setting: Locale | Legends of Windemere

  18. Pingback: Elements of Setting: Locale – rosdahal

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