Glossary Home Literary Device


Setting is when and where a story takes place. This could be a real place or someone completely fictional.

The setting could be another planet or even another universe. The time period works in the same way. It could take place hundreds of years into the future or hundreds of years in the past. Some of the other parts of the set include what the weather is like, whether the characters are in a cityscape or the countryside, and the broader social/political context. For example, in 1984, the totalitarian government and cityscape are some of the most important aspects of the novel. 

Setting pronunciation: seht-ing
Setting in literature definition and examples


Definition of Setting 

The setting is where the story takes place. It is also concerned with the time period, the weather, the time of day, and sometimes even the time of the week. Writers might spend a lot of time on the setting, as is seen in The Lord of The Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. Or, the writer might decide to focus more on the characters and their personal storylines. The bulk of the story might even take place inside a character’s head or in a dream. There is an infinite number of ways a writer might make their setting more interesting. They could, instead of using a real city,  create a new city from scratch. One writer might want to set their story on another planet with a new race of beings that the reader has never heard of. This will enable them to craft a world that’s entirely their own.

The setting in a story is sometimes called the “scene.” It is the background in which the story takes place, but it’s also much more. Depending on the setting, characters may or may not be able to do certain things, make important decisions, or have experiences that they could have in another place or time. 

The setting is usually introduced in the exposition of the text. That is, in the part that contains details about the characters’ lives, personalities, and where they all live or are traveling.

Examples of Settings in Literature 

Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti 

In this well-loved poem, Rossetti uses a very interesting example of setting. The poem takes place, at least in part, in a goblin market, among goblins and their goods. It is a long poem, as most narrative poems are. It reaches twenty-eight stanzas. These are all of the different lengths but come together to form a very interesting story. follows the story of two sisters, Laura and Lizzie. The former decides to follow the sounds of a goblin market and Lizzie trails along behind. Consider these lines: 

“Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie, 

Down the glen tramp little men. 

One hauls a basket, 

One bears a plate, 

One lugs a golden dish 

Of many pounds weight. 

How fair the vine must grow 

Whose grapes are so luscious; 

How warm the wind must blow 

Through those fruit bushes.” 

Here, Laura exclaims over the market, excitedly telling Lizzie about everything she sees. This is a skillful way for a writer to convey the setting to the reader. Rather than telling them directly what a place is like, they have a character do it. This makes the exposition flow directly into the main storyline. 

Read more Christina Rossetti poems.

The Listeners by Walter de la Mare

This memorable poem was published in 1912 in de la Mare’s second collection. It is one of his most popular poems and touches on many of the themes and content that the poet is remembered for. His skill with ghost stories comes through clearly in the lines of ‘The Listeners.’ The poem describes the actions of a Traveller who knocks on at the door of a seemingly deserted home at night. 

But only a host of phantom listeners

That dwelt in the lone house then

Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight

To that voice from the world of men:

Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,

That goes down to the empty hall,

Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken

By the lonely Traveller’s call.

Neither the traveller nor the reader ever truly understands what went on in the house that night. But, de la Mare does make it clear that this place is filled with mystery. He uses words like faint moonbeams on the dark stair” and “down to the empty hall” to help make the setting real in the reader’s mind. 

Discover more Walter de la Mare poems.

The Sign-Post by Edward Thomas

In ‘The Sign-Post,’ Thomas depicts discussion within a speaker’s mind about the progression of time and the nature of Heaven. begins with the speaker describing the scene on top of a hill beside a sign-post. It is cold, and the surrounding plant life is mostly dead. The lines read: 

The dim sea glints chill. The white sun is shy,

And the skeleton weeds and the never-dry,

Rough, long grasses keep white with frost

At the hilltop by the finger-post;

The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed

Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft.

There are many other lines after this that add to the setting. Including “One hazel lost a leaf of gold / From a tuft at the tip.” 

Read more Edward Thomas poems. 


What is the setting in a story?

The setting is when and where the story takes place. It also includes the weather, the day of the week, and perhaps even the time of day. The architecture and social/political structure are also sometimes important.

Why is setting important?

The setting is important because it allows the writer to transport the reader to a new location. Without information about the social customs, time, year, place, etc., it’s going to be hard for readers to get connected to the story.

What is an example of a setting?

An example setting is mid-month, in July, in the baking heat of the Arizona desert. Another example is: on the fourth planet from the sun in an unknown solar system right before an alien festival takes place.

What are the parts of a setting?

The parts of the setting of a story include where and in which time period the story is taking place. It could be the present day, the past, New York City, or a city on another planet with alien inhabitants. Weather and the time of day are also parts of the setting.

  • Audience: the group for which an artist or writer makes a piece of art or writes.
  • Characterization: a literary device that is used to detail and explains the aspects of a specifically crafted character in a novel, play, or poem.
  • Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
  • Prose: a written and spoken language form that does not make use of a metrical pattern or rhyme scheme.

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