2 Rules of Creating Fabulous Settings

2 Rules of Creating a Fabulous Setting

2 Rules of Creating Fabulous Settings PinterestSetting is sometimes the neglected stepchild of the writing world. We lavish attention on our characters and plot, but sometimes forget how powerful a fabulous setting can be.

Some genres, particularly those that fall within the realm of speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction), tend to give more attention to setting, simply because their stories require intensive worldbuilding. We can all borrow a page from some fantasy writers and watch and learn from their detailed and engaging settings.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a better example than The Final Empire, the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. The world he creates in this story is exquisite in its detail and its verisimilitude. He offers a world unique from both our own and from that found in many similar fantasy novels.

Brandon Sanderson’s 2 Fast Rules of Fabulous Settings

The true power of his setting is grounded in a couple of hard facts.

Setting Rule #1: The Setting Should Matter to the Story

Sanderson’s world in Mistborn plays a much bigger role than that of a mere backdrop, a two-dimensional painting on the stage behind the actors. If your settings aren’t intrinsic to your stories to the extent of almost being a character unto themselves, you’re missing an important opportunity.

Setting Rule #2: Describe With the Right Number of Details

Sanderson brings his setting to life through a deft administration of details: not too many, not too few. He highlights the details that are important—the unique and pertinent points—by exemplifying them through his characters’ interactions with the world.

If you’ve created a solid setting as the foundation for your plot—and described it vividly—you’re well on your to writing a story readers won’t easily forget.

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. The tactile details of setting are certainly important. When appropriate to the scene, the writer can also include psychological or symbolic details of setting to advance/enhance the story.

  2. Symbolism is endlessly fascinating – mostly because it’s so difficult to pull off organically. The best symbolism is that which the reader is never even conscious of.

  3. awesome! great post, and something I’m working on in my current MS. Again, same psychic wavelength–thanks, KM~ :o)

  4. Well, you know what they say about great minds! Have fun with your setting!

  5. I LOVE the Mistborn trilogy, and it’s a fabulous example of an incredible setting. I write sci fi, so I put a lot into my settings. In fact, I took a day off work and drove two hours into the desert just to go on a tour of a place my setting is based on! I think it’s something that can deepen a book so much. Thanks for the post!

  6. I give five stars to books about as often as Ebenezer Scrooge sends his mother Hallmark cards, but The Final Empire earned every speck of stardust. Best book of the year.

  7. More than just a backdrop for the characters. That explains it for me. It has to involve all the senses to bring it to life, right? Gives me some ideas!
    Thanks K.M.

  8. Sensuous settings are really the key, I think. If you can make the reader feel as if he’s really there with the characters, they’re not likely to forget your story in a hurry.

  9. I love listening to you! You’re fun. =) I definitely need to sharped the setting in my current WIP. Unfortunately my current WIP is a source of contention with me at the moment. *sigh*

  10. WIPs have a knack of contention, don’t they? I’ve in a love/hate relationship with mine. One day it behaves and I love it. The next, it’s naughty and I can’t stand it.

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