(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” Flannery O’Connor

“Place is one of the lesser angels that watch over the racing hand of fiction, perhaps the one that gazes benignly enough from off to one side, while others, like character, plot, symbolic meaning, and so on, are doing a good deal of wing-beating about her chair, and feeling, who in my eyes carries the crown, soars highest of them all and rightly relegates place into the shade. Nevertheless, it is this lowlier angel that concerns us here. There have been signs that she has been rather neglected of late; maybe she could do with a little petitioning.” Eudora Welty

“What is there, then, about place that is transferable to the pages of a novel? The best things—the explicit things: physical texture. And as place has functioned between the writer and his material, so it functions between the writer and reader.” Eudora Welty

“Location is the ground conductor of all the currents of emotion and belief and more conviction that charge out from the story in its course. These charges need the warm hard earth underfoot, the light and lift of air, the stir and play of mood, the softening bath of atmosphere that give the likeness-to-life that life needs.” Eudora Welty

“Every human event happens somewhere, and the reader wants to know what that somewhere was like.” William Zinsser

“There can never be too much of background.” John Steinbeck

“Place conspires with the artist. We are surrounded by our own story, we live and move in it. It is through place that we put out roots.” Eudora Welty

“Place in fiction is the named, identified, concrete, exact and exacting, and therefore credible, gathering spot of all that has been felt, is about to be experienced, in the novel’s progress.” Eudora Welty

“From the dawn of man’s imagination, place has enshrined the spirit.” Eudora Welty

“In a few cases you’ll need only a paragraph or two to sketch the setting of an event. But more often you’ll need to evoke the mood of a whole neighborhood or town to give texture to the story you’re telling.” William Zinsser

“Well, writers don’t write about places. I mean, the London of Charles Dickens is not London, it’s a London that is in his mind and his spirit, his way of looking at the world. That’s his London. And I suppose the West is my mythologized place. It’s where I grew up. I had a sense of myself as belonging here whether I did or not, of being from here, whether I was or not, and so my thoughts have returned here.” Tobias Wolff

“How can you . . . write well about a place? My advice can be reduced to two principles—one of style, the other of substance. First, choose your words with unusual care. If a phrase comes to you easily, look at it with deep suspicion; . . . As for substance, be intensely selective. If you are describing a beach, don’t write that ‘the shore was scattered with rocks’ or that ‘occasionally a seagull flew over.’ Shores have a tendency to be scattered with rocks and to be flown over by seagulls. Eliminate every such fact that is a known attribute: don’t tell us that the sea had waves and the sand was white. Find details that are significant. They may be important to your narrative; they may be unusual, or colorful, or comic, or entertaining. But make sure they do useful work.” William Zinsser

“Your main task . . . is to find the central idea of the place you’re dealing with. . . . to catch the essence.” William Zinsser

“Whether the locale you write about is urban or rural, east or west, every place has a look, a population and a set of cultural assumptions unlike any other place. Find those distinctive traits.” William Zinsser

“Whatever place you write about . . . isolate the qualities that make it distinctive. Usually this will be some combination of the place and the people who inhabit it.” William Zinsser

“What brings a place alive is human activity: people doing the things that give a local its character.” William Zinsser

“Of course all events occur somewhere.” John Leggett

“The novel that fails is a novel in which there is no sense of place, and in which feeling is, by that much, diminished. Its action occurs in an abstracted setting that could be anywhere or nowhere. This reduces its dimensions drastically and cuts down on those tensions that keep fiction from being facile and slick.” Flannery O’Connor

“Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand, something that can help define him, something he can pick up and throw, if necessary, or eat, or give to his girlfriend.” John Gardner

“Create an environment that reflects the true nature of your character.” Othello Bach

“Your character’s environment should reflect her personality and reveal any special interests or idiosyncrasies. It should give the reader as much insight into your character as a tour of your home would reveal about you.” Othello Bach

“As far as the creation of a body of fiction is concerned, the social is superior to the purely personal. Somewhere is better than anywhere. And traditional manners, however unbalanced, are better than no manners at all.” Flannery O’Connor

“A good writer chooses the setting which makes character and situation clear.” John Gardner

“Ultimately, in fact, plot exists only to give the characters means of finding and revealing themselves, and setting only to give them a place to stand.” John Gardner

“Setting is the stage, the world of the story.” Ulf Wolf

“Setting influences both character and plot.” John Gardner

“He [the writer] must create, stroke by stroke, powerfully convincing characters and settings.” John Gardner

“A setting, deftly portrayed, not only tells us where we are but gives the story a sense of truth, the credibility we speak of as verisimilitude.” John Leggett

“Deft portrayal of setting is a matter of selectivity, of choosing only a few details and letting the reader supply the rest.” John Leggett

“The real purpose of scene [setting] is its contribution to the story’s total, emotional effect.” John Leggett

“An autumnal setting can add a sense of ending and loss to a story about doomed love, just as a spring setting can add a sense of anticipation to a story about adolescence.” John Leggett

“In a great many of the best stories, scene [setting] carries all the weight of a major character.” John Leggett

“Make a world of senses and moods.” Ulf Wolf

“Balzac’s care in creating the scene, therefore, is truly economical; it is not merely a manner of setting the stage for the drama, it is a provision of character and energy for the drama when it begins.” Percy Lubbock

“The chief characteristic I take to be this careful introduction of violent drama into a scene already prepared to vouch for it—a scene so alive that it compels belief, so queer that almost anything might happen there naturally.” Percy Lubbock

“Settings affect the action and the mood, they change the characters.” William Sloane

“The size of the setting also defines the fictional dimension.” William Sloane

“I think locale and texture are much more important to the reader’s sense of actually being in the story than any physical description of the players.” Stephen King