Once you have the characters and the action of your life’s story under control, it’s time to consider the setting.
Nothing takes place in a vacuum, so whether it’s a classic like Macbeth or something lighthearted like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, all the action happens during a certain time and place. Medieval Scotland and 1970s Minneapolis. Then beyond those big umbrellas locations, there are micro settings where scenes occur — Macbeth’s castle, Mary’s apartment; a battlefield in the forest or the WJM-TV newsroom.
So what are your settings?
Because we haven’t really gotten that time travel thing worked out yet, we can’t change the time-frame of our story.
There’s no going back into the past, and there’s no skipping ahead twenty years into the future to see what’s happening then.
Still, there are at least three major location-based settings that people do have control over: Home, Work, and Play. And each of those might be subdivided further.
Your home might be the personal setting that immediately comes to mind when you think about your life’s action. The city and state you call home. Your neighborhood and then your house.
Think about the individual rooms in your house. Your kitchen or family room–the particular activities that take place there. What about a vacation home? If you have one, be sure you include that setting as well.
Think about how those various settings make you feel when you’re there.
I work from home, so my work setting is upstairs, but for most people, work is something that takes place outside of their homes.
Where is your work setting? Are you outdoors or indoors most of the time? Does your profession require travel to new and different settings each week? Do you like the way you feel when you change settings from your personal space to your work space and vice versa?
When you’re not at home or at work, where do you like to spend your time? Where does “your tribe” hang out? Do you stop by a neighborhood bar for a beer and a round of darts? Are you part of a community theatre group? Do you participate in recreational sports? Are you active in a church or synagogue? Do you build houses with Habitat? Are you a season ticket holder for a sports team?
Think about all the places you frequent on a regular basis that are neither home nor work related.
In your life’s story, the setting is mutable — changeable. Stories may open in one place and conclude in another.
Sometimes a person who is seeking to make a change in her life will change her setting, just to shake things up — that’s how Mary Richards came to Minneapolis in the opening episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It’s also how Mary’s friend Rhoda got a show of her own — by moving back to New York City.
So, if you’re not happy with your current setting, work to change it–whether those changes be small tweaks or massive shifts.
A small tweak might be as simple as painting the living room or planting new shrubs in front of your house.
A medium change might involve buying a larger house to accommodate a growing family or moving across-town to cut own the morning commute.
Larger changes might involve switching up your work setting by taking a new job in a new location.
That’s how we once ended up in South Carolina–because I was offered a job. A few years down the road we may change our setting again, retiring from Missouri to a setting that’s sunny and warm, and doesn’t involve shoving snow.
In plays and stories, the setting helps reveal a character’s character or drive the action forward.
Your setting may shape your action and reveal your character, too.
The good news is, if your setting isn’t working for you (too much snow shoveling), you can always change it.