There is a joke in the real estate industry:
In establishing the value of a house, what are the three most important factors?
Location, location, location
The location in which your story is set is an integral and key component to story crafting. Without a setting, your story cannot be anchored, leaving your plot and characters to float unmoored in the vacuum of space — given your setting is not the actual vastness of space. A setting is what gives your character depth and forces him or her to react to outliers that are not within his or her own development. A setting can wreak havoc on a character’s growth or it can be that one aspect which enable his or her transformation. Use your story’s setting to lead your characters on the path that you have laid out for them.
The following is a list of my 13 favorite setting archetypes. Again, as with all of the other archetypes that we previously discussed, the list can be endless.
1. The Underworld: the location where the protagonist confronts fear and / or death
2. The Threshold: the location that begins the protagonist’s transformation and growth (see The Journey of the Hero)
3. The Castle: this location has several facets —
- may hold a quest item, like a princess or treasure
- may represent a place of safety
- may serve as a place of bewitchment or enchantment
4. The Tower: this location may represent two different facets:
- may be a place where evil or something sinister resides
- may have the protagonist or another character locked away from society, where society can be viewed out a small, inescapable window
5. The River: the location defines and represents the flow of time
6. The Forest / Wilderness / Space: the location represents a place where rules do not apply and characters are free to run wild.
7. The Garden: this location represents a place of harmony with innocence, nature, imagination, and / or fertile growth
8. The Wastelands: this location represents discord, poison, loneliness, despair, and / or the lack of growth
9. The Labyrinth: the location may represent a point of great uncertainty or it may serve as a quest for the protagonist to find the “monster” within himself or herself
10. The Winding Stairs: this location may represent either a:
- difficult and long descent into the dark unknown
- treacherous ascent to paradise / heaven
11.The Crossroads: this location either:
- defines suffering
- forces a character to make a decision / identifies the needs for a decision
12. The Desert: this location represents “the lonely quest” or it may represent purity and solitude
13. The Sea: this location may represent:
- good and evil at the same time, for the location can be filled with treasures and danger
- infinity / eternity
Like sweeping unsightly dust bunnies under the rug, authors, especially those of short fiction, sometimes leave the details to be dwelled upon later. Often times, the details of the setting are never returned to and are left lacking substantial substance within a story. Always make sure to leverage the setting in any story, because the setting combined with other archetypes will make your story that much more memorable.
If you have enjoyed this topic, be sure to check out other posts in The Archetype Series.
This is interesting. I can see how a setting can pull the feeling of the places you listed in your post (or how to create a desert out of an urban landscape by description and simile). Good information.
Now there is an interesting setting – a desert formed from an urban landscape.
Terrific, Amanda. There are novels where the setting comes ALIVE so much that they almost feel like characters themselves. That truly is a gift and so important for the author to provide for their readers. Thanks.
Thanks, Marcy! Those are some of my favorite kinds of stories, where the setting is so integrated that it seems to become a character itself.
EXACTLY, Amanda. Great post. 🙂
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