When it comes to inventing settings, I run out of imagination pretty fast. Especially when I'm in the middle of a drafting marathon. I'm spending my efforts juggling characters and conflicts, and I'm not really paying attention to where these characters and this conflict are happening.
Basically, I'd love to just set everything against a green screen and go from there!
But the dedicated writer in me knows that setting is a huge opportunity for shaking up a scene.
And since many of us are spending November drafting as quickly as possible, I thought I'd do a kind of setting round up, to help all of us out.
I'm not saying that these are all brand-new setting ideas you haven't considered before... but there's probably at least a few that might be good contenders for that one scene coming up.
Some are pretty basic, others are a bit more quirky ... and some are pretty out there. (Hey, why not?)
A lot of these ideas will depend on your characters and your story, and how the prompt would best work for you. Others are more scene elements (like weather) that you could layer into an existing setting to give it a little more oomph.
But whatever you're writing, I hope you'll find some fun ideas here to help you along!
Sound good? Here we go! In no order in particular, what if your scene took place in, on, or near:
- A tree: in the trunk, or below the roots, standing on a massive stump, climbing the branches, or even up in a tree house
- A quarry or a mine
- A furnace or boiler room
- An ornamental garden
- Wherever they house the transportation: garage, airplane hangar, rocket storage facility, bicycle lot...
- A specialty shop: for glass knick-knacks, ornamental clocks, fountain pens, marbles... (for some ideas, check this, this, this, and this!)
- A sand bar in the middle of a river
- Any kind of kennel, stable, or animal housing
- A poison garden (yes really!)
- A factory—maybe they make really basic everyday equipment, or maybe something ultra fancy and quirky and specialized—or maybe candy. Candy would be great.
- The sewer system or some network of underground tunnels
- An abandoned/ruined hospital or asylum
- A cave
- A plant nursery
- Your antagonist's favorite landmark: something extra-special from your antagonist's personal history
- The place where the people in your storyworld exercise: whether that means a track for running, a place for boxing or heaving weights, or training in whatever way
- An orchard or vineyard
- On top of something that they'd normally be traveling in: like a train, bus, car, subway, submarine, spaceship...
- Someplace where the air isn't good to breathe: maybe after a chemical accident, or a place that vents poisonous vapors from underground, or maybe the scene of a diabolical attack... wherever they are, the air is bad.
- A river crossing—maybe a ferry, or a footbridge, or stepping stones, or some kind of natural formation
- The place of greatest historical significance to your characters, their families, their government, or their storyworld: where the town was founded, where a great victory was won, where an old hero died, etc.
- A hot air balloon
- A field of grass, crops, or a pumpkin patch
- A laboratory
- The house of a person not in the scene... especially if that person would hate that they're there
- How about in a sinkhole? (Hey, it could happen!)
- Your storyworld's tallest building: put some clouds below your characters' feet!
- An immense beach: maybe a scuzzy, sludgy, awful one where you'd expect to find dead bodies, or maybe one that's packed with a zillion people, and, I don't know, a couple hundred corgis? Or maybe a sandcastle-making competition?
- A symphonic concert, a play, an opera, or a rock concert. Maybe in the crowd, or backstage, or heck, onstage in the midst of the action...
- A lighthouse, beacon, or some sort of signaling tower
- A graveyard, cemetery, mausoleum, or a morgue
- At some kind of studio—for ceramics, or painting, or dancing
- A desert
- An unusual staircase (check out these amazing spirals!)
- Standing on ice (because slippery footing is always interesting and maybe even metaphorical...). Maybe in the middle of a parking lot, or maybe the middle of a lake
- Wherever they might be if one of the participants in the scene is in a casket (dead or alive, your choice!)
- A greenhouse
- A coat closet, storage closet, or locker space
- An underground bunker or house—especially if it's deeper underground than your character would like to be
- Any place with ancient statuary, whether it's something major, like Stonehenge or Easter Island, or something tiny, and known only to a handful of characters in your storyworld
- Some kind of wind tunnel, or any place where your characters have to talk or fight against the wind
- In the middle of a lake, pond, ocean, on something other than a boat
- A desert oasis!
- The set of a film (a major Hollywood production, or a tiny indie film, or even a home movie) or a photo shoot
- The banks along a river
- An escalator, elevator, or moving sidewalk
- The cockpit of a plane that's maybe about to crash...
- A stolen boat (or yacht, or pirate ship, or cruise liner...)
- The tree in the forest that's haunted, cursed, the oldest, or just plain weirdest
- A war memorial or some other local monument
- Somewhere "behind the scenes" in your storyworld's most glamorous hotel—in the laundry area or the staff room or the cleaning closet, perhaps?
- A museum—whether especially grand, or tiny and quirky, or some specific niche. It could play to what your character most loves or most hates, or whatever most makes him/her uneasy...
- At (or behind, or under...) a waterfall
- An especially strange forest: maybe one that's crooked, intricate, despairing, massive, or just especially beautiful
- A quicksand pit, bog, marshy area, or mud slick
- An observatory
- In the midst of a mist
- At a funeral, visitation, or wake, of someone your characters may or may not know
- Or at a wedding, engagement party, bridal shower, or baby shower (and again, they might not know the people involved!)
- At the source of a river (oooh, great literary resonance in that)
- A rooftop with an incredible view
- A library
- A "field" of something manmade—like windmills, solar panels, fog catchers
- Someplace where the characters aren't supposed to be at the zoo—the lion's cage, perhaps?
- Whatever kind of setting is the total opposite of the conversation/action taking place: clearing up mundane information at a soaring, glitzy setting, or having an explosive discussion on the soup aisle at the local store.
And there you go! I hope a few of these triggered some fun new setting ideas for your story. Good luck!
By the way: if you checked out a few of the links, you'll also see that Atlas Obscura is one of my all-time favorite sites for anything setting related.
They just published an excellent book that I looooooove, and they send out fantastic daily emails if you sign up. Plus the site is just incredible to explore! Highly recommended resource for stirring our writerly imaginations: check 'em out! You just might browse for ages!
PS: And just to clarify, this isn't an affiliate link or affiliate anything. I just love their work and want everyone to know about them!