Setting: It Takes More Than A Flip Of A Coin

By Marcia Thornton Jones

A story’s plot often dictates certain setting elements, like in my World War II historical novel WOODFORD BRAVE. I knew Cory’s story would take place in a small town during the 1940s, but while some aspects just fell into place, I found I couldn’t leave most of the setting decisions to mere chance.

A story’s setting is more than a general sense of time and place that decorate the background; it’s also integral to character development and story theme. For example, the alley that plays an important role in WOODFORD BRAVE was intentionally chosen because it represents ‘the line’ that people draw between sides during times of conflict. In another scene, Cory sneaks into his parents’ bedroom to look at a worn silver dollar that his dad always rubbed when making tough decisions. That silver dollar was intentionally chosen as part of the setting because it’s symbolic of a decision Cory must make, as well as the idea that bravery and fear are two sides of ‘the same coin’.

Pondering the following questions helps me make intentional decisions about a story’s setting. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

  1. What beliefs, traditions, and cultural influences are part of my character’s world?
  2. How have my characters’ personalities, belief systems, and behaviors been shaped by the time and place in which they live?
  3. How might the environment affect the protagonist’s emotional state? Her self perception?
  4. How does the world directly impact my protagonist’s story?
  5. How does each story character view the world? What are their unique perspectives?
  6. With what does my protagonist choose to interact? How and why? What does she avoid? How and why?
  7. What specific items have significance to the character? Why?
  8. What items in her world might be used as a motif to convey the story’s overall theme?
  9. Where does my character find refuge? Where does my character feel the most vulnerable?
  10. What about her world does my character want to change? How does that relate to her own transformation?
 By the way, the worn silver dollar in WOODFORD BRAVE has personal significance for me, too. My father carried the pictured silver dollar in his pocket every single day. Funny how our ‘own settings’ find their way into stories!


  1. I am intrigued by the premise of you r MG historical, Marcia. When does Woodford Brave debut?

  2. Thanks, Darlene. Look for Woodford Brave at the end of August. I would appreciate your review!

  3. Love that you recognize how culture and setting are intertwined.

  4. I loved that list of questions!

  5. Annie, I'd love to hear if you had any luck with the setting questions!


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