I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times before that not only must your characters live and breathe like real people, but your setting has to have a life of its own as well. If you want your story world to leap off the page, your setting should have a personality just like your protagonist.

But how do you do that?

Gauldalen Valley, Sør-Trøndelag, Norway

Photo by Fredrik Bruno

What do you mean my setting has to have a personality?

Good question. I wasn’t sure myself when I first thought about it. A setting that has a personality? It seemed ridiculous. Was New York supposed to have a dry, quirky sense of humor or something? Was London supposed to be a raven haired vixen with an attitude problem?

When you take the time to think about it, every great book has a great setting.

Let’s take Hogwarts for example. On the surface, it’s just a school for magic with secret passageways and hidden doors and staircases that move. But when you look a little deeper, Hogwarts has a heart just like Harry or any of the others do. Once you’ve read about Hogwarts, you can’t really forget it. And that’s because J.K. Rowling brought the school to life.

How can my setting live and breathe?

There are a few ways to do that. They’re all very simple, but the hardest part is actually taking the time to get to know your setting.

Make it a character

How do you make a character seem real? By giving it quirks and emotions. Do the same thing for your setting. What sets it apart from every other place in the universe? Why did you choose this place for your story? Really think about why this place is the best fit.

How can a setting have quirks?

Hogwarts had doors that only opened if you tickled them. District 12 had an electrified fence that was never turned on. Figure out what little things your readers will remember when they think about your setting.

How can a setting have emotions?

There are the obvious ways, like making it rain when your character is sad. But there are also more subtle ways, like making things in the house creak when your character is scared, or having the leaves fall off the trees when she’s feeling alone. The choice is yours.

What about you? How do you bring your setting to life?


Let’s spend a little time getting to know our settings. Write for fifteen minutes about a character going through a big life event. Whether it’s a death, or a marriage, or something else entirely is up to you. How does the setting help your story seem more real?

Share your practice in the comments and be sure to give your fellow writers a little love, too. Have fun!

The Magic Violinist
The Magic Violinist

The Magic Violinist is a young author who writes mostly fantasy stories. She loves to play with her dog and spend time with her family. Oh, and she’s homeschooled. You can visit her blog at themagicviolinist.blogspot.com. You can also follow The Magic Violinist on Twitter (@Magic_Violinist).