Setting
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Setting

Definition

The setting of a narrative is the environment in which the narrative takes place. Setting is mainly created through the use of mise en scene, but many other codes such as audio and camerawork can also add to it’s understanding.

The macro-setting of a narrative can refer to it’s overall setting (such as Los Angeles in 2019) and the micro-setting can be used to discuss the setting of individual scenes (such as an office boardroom at night).

Sometimes a setting is integral, which means that the setting used is necessary for the narrative to work. The setting may setup the rules of the narrative that is needed for the plot to progress or creates the conflict between characters. Other times setting is more of a background that has less influence on the events of the narrative.

Elements

More than just the time and place of a narrative, there can be many elements of a narrative’s setting. Depending on the story, sometimes certain elements can be more integral than others.

Place

Where the narrative takes place, the physical location. This could include a galaxy far far away or Times Square in New York City.

Star Wars is set in a galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars is set in a galaxy far, far away.
The opening of 28 Days Later is set in central London, a realistic setting for the audience.
The opening of 28 Days Later is set in central London, a realistic setting for the audience.

Time

The time of the setting is when the narrative is set. The setting could be historicalfuturistic or contemporary. The time of a setting could also refer to how long a time the narrative takes place over. A narrative could span over 100’s of years or just 24 hours.

The place of a setting may be so fantastical that time may be irrelevant. For instance, it doesn’t matter when The Lion King is set, it’s a kind of parable that sits outside of time.

Time can also refer to the time of day of which the narrative or scene is set or the day of the week. ‘The Breakfast Club’ is set during a Saturday detention, which leaves the characters alone within the school. ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ is mostly set during night time.

‘The Breakfast Club’ is set at a Saturday detention
‘The Breakfast Club’ is set at a Saturday detention
‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ is set mainly during nighttime
‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ is set mainly during nighttime

Context

A setting may provide some contextual information to help the audience understand some aspect of the narrative. There may be social, political or cultural contexts in an environment that has an impact on the narrative.

For instance, setting a film during World War 2 includes much contextual understanding. The audience immediately knows what the ultimate outcome is of the war and who the protagonist and antagonists are.

Similarly, the context of a certain time or place gives an understanding of how characters are meant to behave. A mother’s role in a film set in the 1950’s has specific values connected to them that would be different then a mother that would be set in 2018.

‘Brooklyn’ is set in New York in 1952, which sets the context for what women were expected to do at the time
‘Brooklyn’ is set in New York in 1952, which sets the context for what women were expected to do at the time
The setting of ‘The Big Short’ is during the 2008 financial crisis.
The setting of ‘The Big Short’ is during the 2008 financial crisis.

Functions

A setting can have many different functions, which could be any number of the following, or none of them at all.

Extension of character

Sometimes a setting can reflect or emphasise certain character/s. Think of the antagonists lair, the boss’ office or the love interest’s bedroom.

Tyrell’s office in Blade Runner reflects his power.
Tyrell’s office in Blade Runner reflects his power.

Amelie’s bedroom
Amelie’s bedroom

Contribute to a mood or atmosphere

The combination of different elements of a setting can add to the overall mood or atmosphere to a narrative. This mood may have a connection to the genre of the narrative and is connected to the audience expectations of what will happen in the story.

The wide open setting in ‘North by North West’ contributes to an uneasy atmosphere
The wide open setting in ‘North by North West’ contributes to an uneasy atmosphere

The school setting of ‘Dead Poets Society’ connects to the coming-of-age genre
The school setting of ‘Dead Poets Society’ connects to the coming-of-age genre

Create tension

A setting can have an effect on the plot of the narrative by creating pressure or stress that causes a character to act in a certain way. Middle Earth in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ creates physical obstacles that the protagonists must overcome. This tension could also be cultural. In ‘Hidden Figures’ women of colour have to fight against prejudice in 1960’s America whilst working at NASA.

In ‘Clue’ the characters are stuck within the house with a murderer.
In ‘Clue’ the characters are stuck within the house with a murderer.
The 1950’s universe of ‘Pleasantville’ creates tension between it’s setting and the protagonists from contemporary times.
The 1950’s universe of ‘Pleasantville’ creates tension between it’s setting and the protagonists from contemporary times.

Setting as character

Sometimes when a setting’s elements are so strong and essential to the narrative it can be seen as another character. Setting can be seen as a character if other characters can have intimate relationships with them.

The setting of ‘The Truman Show’ plays such a major part in the narrative it can be seen as a character of the show.
The setting of ‘The Truman Show’ plays such a major part in the narrative it can be seen as a character of the show.

Video Examples

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Resources

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Settings are Characters, Too - YouTube
settingvideo essayyoutube
Narrative: A Critical Linguistic Introduction - Michael Toolan - Google Books
setting
Setting - Definition and Examples | LitCharts
setting
The Coen Brothers: Setting as Character - YouTube
settingyoutubevideovideo essaycoen brothers