Theme affects Setting


This is part of a series, 30 Days to A Stronger NovelOnce you have your novel’s theme clear in your own mind, you can strengthen that theme during revision by paying attention to setting.

Let’s assume this is the theme for my novel:
Work hard because you love the sport, not because you love to win.

I’ll need to think about settings in which my character lives. Does he care about winning? Then what posters are on his wall? Olympic medalists. What magazines does he read? Running magazines that emphasize competition.

Or, really, it’s Dad who pushes the competition, so when you walk into Dad’s study, his walls are covered with shelves of bowling trophies, pictures of Dad and famous men he’s met in his work, framed certificates of appreciation from obscure places that most people would pitch a day after receiving, pictures of Dad crossing a finish line, of Dad wearing a high school basketball tournament, of Dad in sixth grade looking misshappen by huge football pads, of Dad in first grade with a skinny chest and toothy smile holding up a swim team medal. Oh, now, we know where that competition comes from and what our character has to battle against. Before we even meet Dad, we know what he’ll say to poor J.

Here, I found the emotional landscape of the story, the setting that underlies the theme, in the description of Dad’s study.

You might find it in

  • the historical time period you choose for the story: a story about loneliness could have power if set in the pioneer prairies.
  • the weather: A windy coastline is a setting for a story about restlessness.
  • the clothing: Stuffy Victorian clothing with high collars, long sleeves, and long skirts tells of a repressed spirit.
  • the food: For a kid who feels smothered by his parents, feed him liver smothered in onions.

Your theme should be echoed in many of the choices you make about setting.

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