Top 200 Setting Ideas for a Story, from Expert Writers

Last Updated on October 20, 2023 by Dr Sharon Baisil MD

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next story idea, look no further! This article has 500 setting ideas to help get your creative juices flowing. Expert writers have contributed their favorite settings , so you’re sure to find something that sparks your imagination. With this wealth of ideas at your fingertips, you can write a truly unique story or write a paper online with someone’s help. Short story ideas don’t get much better than this.

List of the Top 200 Setting Ideas for Writing a Story

  • A dark forest full of traps and magical creatures
  • The seafloor
  • A derelict space station floating in orbit around a distant planet
  • An abandoned amusement park at night
  • The surface of an unknown planet, far away from Earth
  • The center of a massive mountain range where nobody has ever ventured
  • A massive library full of real, physical books that no one has ever read before
  • The very tip-top floor of a massive skyscraper
  • An isolated prison in the middle of an endless desert
  • The house is at the end of a long, winding road leading to nowhere else but more road with no landmarks or distinguishing characteristics
  • A small farmhouse on a large plot of farmland, surrounded by woods and swamps on all sides
  • An abandoned warehouse filled with secret passageways that are impossible to find without help from someone who knows them by heart
  • The surface of Mars during sunrise over Olympus Mons Crater
  • On an elevated platform at the center of a small island
  • The very, very bottom floor of a massive skyscraper that has been abandoned since construction was completed
  • An underground cave system where one can go for days without seeing sunlight or another living being
  • A space shuttle orbiting around Jupiter
  • In the belly of a massive whale as it swims through dark, frigid waters filled with horrific monsters and other life forms from Earth’s deepest nightmares.
  • On the surface of Venus during sunrise over Sif Mons Crater
  • In a massive library filled to the brim with books so old, they crumble to dust when touched by human hands, at least if their age is not protected by magic or advanced technology beyond what humanity understands today
  • A massive tree with a labyrinth of interconnected rooms and underground tunnels deep within its roots, filled with strange creatures like nothing ever seen on Earth before
  • The center of the sun
  • In the mouth of a massive dragon as it flies through the sky
  • On an abandoned oil platform in the middle of an ocean where strange sea creatures lurk and unknowable horrors hide just out of sight under dark, stormy waters
  • Beneath the surface of Europa during sunrise over Valhalla Crater
  • A massive cave system that has been occupied by orcs for centuries upon centuries
  • An endless desert where sandstorms strike without warning and can carry entire structures away if they aren’t built properly to withstand the elements
  • A small, floating island somewhere in the Indian Ocean that is only accessible every seven years when the tides pull it closer to other islands and civilizations ashore
  • In a tent at a massive music festival miles away from civilization
  • Underground while being chased by trolls with weapons forged from precious metals and stones no human has ever seen before
  • On a far-off planet orbiting a distant star where friendly inhabitants will welcome you with open arms, but be careful about what you accept or take from them–the planetary economy might not be able to handle Earth’s money supply
  • Inside Amazon forest
  • In a small town in the center of a large valley surrounded by dense forests and thick swamps
  • In a dark alley in New York City at night, desperately trying to find your way home from work before something bad happens
  • A small town that has been cut off from civilization for centuries upon centuries, isolated from humanity behind seemingly impenetrable walls built to keep out dangerous monsters that lurk outside the village’s limits
  • A small shuttlecraft piloted by an AI on its way to explore Pluto and beyond
  • In a massive city made of towers stacking high into the sky, each one attached to another by bridges and elevators that stretch from floor to floor
  • A single room in an apartment complex near a major city where strange noises and smells come from beneath the floorboards late at night
  • The depths of an ancient jungle filled with giant trees and nocturnal predators whose roars echo through the forest like nothing ever heard before on Earth
  • Atop a large mountain looking down upon a vast desert filled with sand dunes as far as the eye can see
  • On an abandoned oil platform in the middle of an ocean where strange sea creatures lurk, and unknowable horrors hide just out of sight under dark, stormy waters
  • Across the surface of Europa during sunrise over Valhalla Crater
  • Outdoor Skating Rink
  • Seaside Towns
  • Parisian Cafe
  • Middle Eastern Bazaar
  • Rain Forest
  • Hollywood Theatre
  • Moto X Track
  • Train Station
  • Castle Dungeon
  • Greek Island Resort
  • Alaskan Wilderness
  • Redwood Forest
  • Subway Station
  • Ocean Liner
  • Space Shuttle LaunchPad
  • English Countryside Manor House
  • Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Theatre
  • Disneyland Park
  • Sports Stadiums and Arenas
  • Military Bases and
  • Palace and Gardens of Versailles
  • Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  • Central Park in New York City
  • Amusement Parks
  • Water Parks and Theme Piers
  • Stadiums and Arenas (Indoor)
  • Museum of Natural History (NYC)
  • Casinos & Gentlemen’s Clubs
  • Lighthouses
  • The White House (Washington, DC)
  • Fruit and Vegetable Market in South Central LA
  • Airports and Airlines
  • Ships Before They Sink
  • Space Satellite Control Center (Houston)
  • High-Rise Buildings (NYC, Chicago, etc.)
  • The Planet Mars
  • Mountain Ranges on Earth
  • Urban Streets of Any Large City
  • Rural Towns in Any Region of the World
  • Movie Premiere Venues, Awards Shows & Conventions
  • Night Clubs & Bars (NYC)
  • The Great Wall of China (Northern China)
  • Russian State Duma Building (Moscow)
  • Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
  • Rio de Janeiro City Streets During Carnival
  • Harbor Alley in Hong Kong at Night
  • Abandoned Amusement Parks (Asbury Park, New Jersey)
  • The North Pole and the Arctic Ocean
  • Concert Halls & Opera Houses
  • Any Major Sports Stadium or Arena
  • Movie Theatres
  • Public Parks
  • Downtown Zoos & Aquariums
  • Gas Stations & Convenience Stores
  • Clothing Racks in High-End Department Stores
  • Shopping Malls
  • Museums, Art Galleries, Libraries & Historical Sites
  • War Memorials and Monuments
  • Historic Homes and Buildings
  • Restaurants with Diners Outside
  • Boardwalks with Shops and Stands
  • Famous Hotel Pools & Resorts
  • The Great Pyramids of Giza (Northern Egypt)
  • Miles of Seawall in Galveston, Texas
  • Inside a Presidential Limousine Riding Through Town
  • Carnival Cruise Ships
  • A futuristic manufacturing facility
  • A world filled with genetically modified creatures
  • An old-west town that has been magically restored to its 19th century glory days (and beyond!)
  • A lighthouse on an isolated island
  • A rickety old wooden bridge collapsed into the raging river below it
  • An industrial complex filled with glowing debris and strange machinery
  • A castle in the middle of a deep, dark forest
  • A boarding school built on an alien planet
  • The edge of space broken by an enormous asteroid field and marked with craters and jagged ridges where stars have fallen to Earth (and beyond!)
  • A tropical archipelago filled with exotic wildlife that is home to dangerous sea life
  • A quiet coastal town full of quaint little houses sitting at the bottom end of a steep cliffside overlooking calm, glassy waters
  • An untamed wilderness filled with wild creatures and beasts of many kinds
  • A world where the sun is just a bright point in the sky, but there are entire civilizations out there that have completely abandoned their star for another one entirely. There’s no way to travel between them without making a trip through an inter-dimensional rift or wormhole
  • A futuristic mega-city at night, full of glowing billboards advertising products that no one will ever buy (and there’s a great deal more to discover!)
  • A forgotten temple complex nestled in the foothills of a dormant volcano
  • An isolated corner of the cosmos, lit only by distant stars and several smaller moons
  • A frozen wasteland
  • The Oval Office of the White House
  • Slum Areas in Any Major City Around the World
  • Abandon Prison Camps from WWI and WWII
  • In a cave deep beneath a mountain on another world
  • Entirely Inside a Computer Program
  • The deck of a pirate ship sailing the open seas
  • A tropical island forgotten by time
  • A train caught in an avalanche
  • Inside the body of a giant monster rampaging through the countryside, looking for something to eat
  • A city made entirely out of ice and snow.
  • An empty school after everyone has gone home for the day
  • A derelict luxury liner adrift in space (with a secret inside!)
  • Inside an Imaginarium (or similar fantasy machine)
  • Construction Sites
  • Any city street, alleyway, or back-alley
  • A cruise ship adrift at sea
  • An aircraft carrier or battleship sitting in the middle of an abandoned port
  • An ancient temple deep within a jungle
  • The inside of a spaceship or space station has crash-landed on an alien world (and beyond!)
  • A barren desert with nothing more than dead land for as far as the eye can see
  • Any massive stadium or sports arena that has been abandoned by its owners
  • A crowded subway train at rush hour
  • The inside of a refrigerator, freezer, walk-in cooler, meat locker, etc.
  • A wealthy man’s lavish estate sitting alone on top of a hill overlooking the city below it
  • The peak of an active volcano
  • Ancient Underground Cities
  • On the set of a cheesy old science fiction movie from the 1960s
  • A lush jungle of tall, sprawling trees that are completely covered in thick vines and tangled undergrowth
  • A strange world where everything looks wrong (that’s how it always starts!)
  • A post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by desperate survivors scavenging for resources to survive another day. There are still pockets of civilization here and there, but they have fallen into chaos as the population has dwindled due to starvation or plague. The landscape is littered with debris from the former days, while the skies are a burning orange and red. The air is thick with ash and dust, making breathing difficult at best.
  • A mysterious technological planet filled with massive construction projects that seem to have no purpose whatsoever
  • An alien world full of colorful plants/animals (and other creatures) that somehow still manages to be boring as hell. There aren’t many places for settlers to set up shop, so it’s mostly just a large.
  • A beautiful world filled to the brim with dragons and other amazing creatures, but also completely devoid of life.
  • A peaceful world with lush fields, rolling hills, and deep forests where life is bright and cheery. The sky is always clear blue; there are no storms or hurricanes to be found.
  • Mount Rushmore
  • The inside of a giant glass dome where the air is breathable, no one can see in or out. The inhabitants are completely cut off from the outside world (except radio communications)
  • A once proud civilization was reduced to ruins by an unknown enemy.
  • The cold vacuum of space, where nothing lives or grows
  • A quiet little town that has been completely abandoned for reasons still being investigated. It’s everyone for themselves out here in the wasteland, and sometimes people just get sick of living life on their own
  • The inside of a massive haunted house or castle
  • The inside of a giant amusement park filled with all sorts of rides and attractions. Unfortunately, the park has been deserted for decades, so anything that can move is inoperable. The vast majority of people who went missing over the years were just sucked into this place when they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • A peaceful village in the mountains where everything is quiet and calm. It’s all fun and games until someone shows up with a gun, demanding whatever valuables you might be hiding away. Once they get what they want, you’re either forced into servitude or simply executed on the spot (depending on how nice their boss happens to be feeling at the time)
  • The inside of a department store during the busiest shopping day of the year
  • A dark and dangerous world where mutants, robots, cyborgs, zombies, and other vile creatures are constantly trying to kill each other.
  • Inside the great pyramid of Giza
  • A massive cruise ship that has been stranded at sea
  • A futuristic manufacturing facility with
  • A city of the undead
  • A post-apocalyptic wasteland
  • A futuristic sports arena inside a mountain range
  • A great white wasteland covered entirely in snow and ice. The temperature is far too cold for any sort of human settlement.
  • A crowded coffee shop
  • An abandoned mansion
  • A field in springtime
  • An erupting volcano
  • The cockpit of an airplane during takeoff or landing in rough weather (I like this one. I’d go for the cockpit of a passenger airliner.)
  • A library at night
  • The first row at a rock concert
  • Mount Everest
  • Underwater (Like “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”)
  • On top of a skyscraper during a thunderstorm at night (Like that part in Spiderman 3 where Spidey’s fighting the Lizard and what’s-his-name.)
  • On the ring road around Paris at rush hour (I’ve never been to France, but it sure sounds like hell in this instance.)

The Importance of Setting in Creative Writing

The setting is the blueprint from which your story is built. Knowing how to use it effectively can turn a good story into a great one and a mediocre story into a complete failure.

The advantages of a good setting are many:

1) It creates a sense of comfort in the reader who reads your short story.

2) It can increase suspense when used properly.

3) It adds depth and realism to the story, making it easier for readers to escape their daily lives and immerse themselves in your work.

4) If you do it right, it can give your story an amazing and lasting sense of wonder and nostalgia.

5) The story setting becomes a character in and of itself, with its motives and goals that may or may not align with those of the main characters (or even change as the story goes on).

6) It helps to make your writing more vivid and concise.

7) It becomes a tool you can utilize to provide foreshadowing and build tension.

8) It helps determine plot direction, character motivation, pacing, etc.

9) It becomes one of the first things your readers will notice about your work, so it must be done right from the beginning.

The setting is the foundation upon which your story is built. Do it wrong, and your efforts will come crumbling down around you, but get it right, and you’ll have a masterpiece on your hands.

Thanks for reading my blog, and Happy Writing ! What’s your favorite kind of setting? Mine is anything post-apocalyptic, as long as there are mutants and zombies. 🙂

Most Read Articles in 2023:

Sharon Baisil

Hi, I am a doctor by profession, but I love writing and publishing ebooks. I have self-published 3 ebooks which have sold over 100,000 copies. I am featured in Healthline, Entrepreneur, and in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology blog.

Whether you’re a busy professional or an aspiring author with a day job, there’s no time like now to start publishing your ebook! If you are new to this world or if you are seeking help because your book isn’t selling as well as it should be – don’t worry! You can find here resources, tips, and tricks on what works best and what doesn’t work at all.

In this blog, I will help you to pick up the right tools and resources to make your ebook a best seller.

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Setting of a Story: 8 Tips for Creating an Immersive Setting

POSTED ON Oct 25, 2023

Nishoni Harvey

Written by Nishoni Harvey

The setting of a story is a powerful driver for hooking readers. 

Does your setting help tell your story? Does it deepen your plot and enrich your characters? Does your setting engage the reader by setting the mood and increasing the emotional connection to your characters? What is the setting of a story, anyway?

All these are important questions you should ask yourself if you plan to write a novel .

Getting your setting “properly written” can be the difference between a huge hit or a bad miss. Too many details, and they get skimmed and skipped. But not enough details and the characters will have no place to just “be.” 

I said that the setting enriches the characters. What I didn’t tell you is that it helps to form the characters and even the characters' motivations . It does the same for the plot.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to write the setting of a story so that it's engaging to your readers. 

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This blog on book settings will cover:

What is the setting of a story .

The setting of a story is the context in a scene or story that describes the elements in which a story takes place, including time, place, and environment . Each component in the setting helps to build the narrative's mood, plot, and character development .

Exposition is key in introducing the story's setting to the audience, offering vital background details that set the scene. It outlines the when and where, along with important social, historical, or cultural contexts, essential for grasping the plot and character motivations.

Many people mistakenly believe that the setting is only the backdrop to the story when, in fact, it includes everything that has to do with the social environment, place, and time .

What Is Setting Of A Story

What is the setting of a story's purpose?

In short, the setting of a story has an important purpose in providing the reader with context on the narrative, such as describing the when and where of the setting.

Where does it take place? What's the social climate? What time period is it? What important events are happening in the world? What are the social norms and expectations? What's the weather like? What season is it in? These are all questions that serve a purpose in the story's setting.

Related: 4 Exposition Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

What is an example of a setting?

Here is an example of the setting of a story from author Nora Roberts, who is describing Ireland in The Dark Witch : “The cold carved bone deep , fueled by the lash of the wind , iced by the drowning rain gushing from a bloated sky . Such was Iona's welcome to Ireland . She loved it. How could she not? she asked herself as she hugged her arms to her chest and drank in the wild, soggy view from her window. She was standing in a castle . She'd sleep in a castle that night. An honest-to-God castle in the heart of the west .”

Notice the bolded words, and how they help the reader envision the place, social environment, and time of the story.

There are many stellar examples of setting written not only in fiction novels , but also in non-fiction books as well.

Let’s go through another setting of a story example, and how it relates to the experience a reader has.

If I were to talk about the old Volkswagen Beetle that Sarah was sitting in as she was bouncing down a bumpy back alleyway in Manhattan, you’d know where she was.

If I were to write about the Volkswagen—musty with the strong smell of stale sweat hanging heavy in the air, the plot thickens.

If I were to show you that the sky is dark, there’s a cold drizzle outside, the wind is gusty, and that Sarah’s inner thoughts reflect that, “Even the weather knows how I feel,” we have some insight into the depressed state of the protagonist.

Show, don't tell in your writing . Show the readers the setting of a story through powerful writing and the use of literary devices . 

Why is the setting of a story important? 

The setting of a story is important because it provides the reader with context on the time, place, and environment that the story takes place in. It is also important because it improves the reader's experience and adds to the story's development with plot, mood, and characters.

Whether you are learning how to write a nonfiction book or a novel, the setting of a story is crucial to that story’s development, and the reader’s experience, for a number of reasons. 

Why Is The Setting Of A Story Important

Here's why the setting of a story is important:

  • It connects the story's elements. An effective story setting connects the characters to the plot, and ties together the book's themes and events.
  • It builds meaning to the narrative . Without the setting, there may not be as much meaning to be gleaned since setting provides context.
  • It elicits emotional responses in the reader. When readers are engaged in your story's setting, they will be actively reading and invested in experiencing the narrative and how it unfolds.
  • It helps readers visualize your story. Authors use setting to describe the environment, time, and place for the reader, which provides more context and engages the reader.
  • It improves the story's flow. With an effective, well-crafted setting in your narrative, the plot will flow together well, and the events will feel real.

How to decide the setting of a story

When you’re learning how to write a book , there are three important points you should consider when deciding where the story’s setting will be.

Decide The Setting Of A Story

Make your setting fit the purpose of your plot

Your setting should be aligned to your plot so that it all makes sense to your reader, and is realistic. 

Are you trying for a murder mystery? To fit that purpose, make the story setting be in Chicago with high crime rates, many places to hide, and a resourceful police station.

Do you want it to feel fast-paced, or like a slow and steady Sherlock Holmes mystery? To accomplish that, a rural, backwoods setting will be more appropriate. 

See how the setting of a story should make sense for the overall plot?

Make the setting fit the story

The setting of a story should fit the actual story; things, events, or objects within a story’s setting should not feel out of place to the reader, based on prior knowledge of a place or time period. 

For example, does the Volkswagen on the bumpy road carry a car full of lawbreakers? They’ll probably not want to draw attention. Place them in America in an era when old Volkswagens were common.

Make the setting fit your character

Last but not least, the setting of a story should always be aligned with the main characters found within that story. In other words, you should build your setting and your character bio template simultaneously. 

For example, is your character shy and withdrawn? Have her sitting on the ledge surrounding the red brick school building writing short stories in her mom’s old notebook instead of enjoying recess with the other kids.

How to research the setting of a story

When researching the setting a story, there are many things to consider:

  • What nationalities are represented in the population?
  •  How dense is the population?
  • What is the primary religion of the area?
  • What other religions are there?
  •  What old wives’ tales and superstitions are there that might shape the plot and the reactions of the main character and the population to outside influences?
  • What are the terrain and other geographical features?
  • What are the typical weather patterns for that time of year?
  • What is the climate like?
  • What is the government like?
  •  What is the history of the area?

How To Research The Setting Of A Story

Some helpful sources for researching the setting of a story are:

  • Visiting the place in person. This is the best way to get a real-life, hands-on feel for a setting, but it's not always possible, especially if you don't have a budget or if you're writing about an imaginary place.
  • YouTube . You can do a quick search on YouTube to find footage of many sites.
  • Google Earth . This is a great resource, and one that will give you an idea of the terrain and general appearance of a place.
  • Encyclopedias . Don't forget to use a handy encyclopedia!
  • National Geographic . It's a great resource for high quality images.
  • Newspapers. While more time consuming than doing a quick online search, they are first-hand research.
  • Photos . Do a Google search for “photos of [what you are searching for]”
  • Archives . First-hand research where you're sure to find a wealth of information on your topic.

Story Setting Research

8 tips for how to write the setting of a story

Creating an engaging setting for your reader can be difficult. Think of the setting like a very large puzzle – it takes a lot of detailed pieces to make the big picture appear seamless. 

Through detailed research and a lot of thought, you can create a setting that aligns for your reader by using these tips. 

1. Decide what mood you’re trying to establish

Mood is defined as the overall feeling the reader has when reading a story, and it is created by the author. 

What mood are you trying to establish? 

How do you want readers to feel as they read your story? Think on that, then create that mood with your writing. 

Think of it in terms of this: A bright summer morning in the middle of a large, grassy park where happy families are out and about casts a much different mood than a dark forest with crooked, gnarled trees and low-hanging fog.

2. Decide which period or moment best fits the context of your story

The time period plays a huge part in developing the setting of a story. 

What kind of plot do you have? Does it best fit into medieval Europe, America’s 1960s, or in current time? Or maybe it fits better in the future? 

Look at the language you’re planning to use—the idioms, quotes, and expressions. Look at the props and the way the characters view them.

Consider how the different people in the book are treated. Are the elderly respected? Are the police viewed as an authority? Are the parents held in regard? In what regard do people hold the churches and the government?

All of these things and more have a bearing on the time period your story will fall into.

Sometimes, the best gauge of what time period your story setting should be in is to consider a time you know well and have loved. If you felt an emotional connection to that time, you’ll be able to convey that to your readers, and that’s what writing is all about.

3. Know the atmosphere you need to portray

As you write the setting of a story, you need to think about the atmosphere that you need to portray for the reader. 

Is the scene one with high tension? Write your setting in a way that implies an atmosphere of high tension.

For example, maybe James and Lisa are working up toward an argument. Why would Lisa be noticing soft fluffy clouds above her head, singing birds, and the warmth of the sun’s bright rays? When you read that description, you probably think about relaxation and peace – not tense emotion. 

Setting Of A Story Example

4. Incorporate all elements of a story

Remember that the setting of a story includes more than the terrain, weather, and climate of the place.

We already discussed some of the other elements that are involved in the setting of a story. Some of these are the government, religion, superstitions, and population. But how do you write them into your story?

You should know all these little details in depth, but it doesn’t mean you’ll use it all directly in your story’s setting.

Only use what’s necessary to describe the setting adequately. No more. No less. Write it in surrounded by action, and don’t forget to break it up throughout the story.

Setting descriptions aren't only needed in the beginning, but everywhere you need the plot deepened and your characters enhanced.

5. Use all five senses when you’re describing the setting

When you’re walking through a room or down the street, do you see it as two-dimensional? No. You experience every part of that walk. You use every one of your five senses.

You want your readers to experience your story through each of their senses, too. An easy way to do this is by using literary elements in your writing. 

Begin by describing what you want them to see. When you do, describe it the same way the eye travels in real life. Start with the focal point, then move across in a straight line.

Next, your main character would naturally notice what they hear. Don’t describe everything they hear, just the most relevant and obvious ones.

What do they smell? Is the air dusty? Is someone cooking breakfast?

Have them touch things. They can run their hand over the smooth desk, feel the rough board, and handle the cold metal rod.

Lastly, explore their sense of taste. Your main character won’t use this sense as much, but you do want to be sure to use it.

Remember, you don’t only taste when you put something in your mouth. Something can “smell so good that you can almost taste it.”

Sprinkle these details in – don’t feel that you have to describe each and every little thing; otherwise, you’ll overwhelm your reader. 

Practice writing some scenes, and it will start to come naturally to you!

6. Don’t describe the setting of a story all at once

You don’t want to give your readers an encyclopedia of facts. They won’t read them. They’ll skip them, or might even close your book altogether.

When you start your book with a wall of details, your readers are more likely to put down your book to never pick it up again. Your readers will skim or skip later clumps of setting as they try to get back to the action.

Since the setting of a story is so essential to the plot and characters, it’s very important that you stretch it out enough that it will be read and enjoyed.

Write the setting in as part of the action, adding in a piece here and there. 

A tip: Learn how to write dialogue in a way that engages your reader and helps build the setting. You can experiment with first-person, second-person POV , and third-person POV to find the best way to pull people into the setting.

Here is an example of a well-written piece.

Setting Of A Story Sample

7. Don't over-describe the setting of a story

Here’s why you shouldn’t over-describe the setting of a story:

  • You stifle your reader’s imagination. You must leave some details up to the imagination. You want your readers to be involved in the story. Otherwise, you’ll lose them.
  • You knock your readers out of the story. The quickest way to get a reader to desert your story is to front-load them with too many descriptions. 
  • You don’t need to include every detail. Appeal to your readers’ knowledge of the world. Tell your readers the machine sounds like a buzzing bee. You don’t need to describe the sound.

8. Remember that the setting of a story has a direct effect on the character and plot

Our environment affects our mood – this is true for almost every human! So, it shouldn’t be any different for the characters in your story, since they should be life-like. 

Let’s look at some examples. 

If Lisa lives in mid-Michigan, where it’s dark and dank all winter long, she may become depressed as many people do.

If she lives in a trailer in the middle of nowhere with the frigid air seeping in through the cracks in the door and a furnace that won’t stay lit, her character will beg for our sympathies.

If she has a toddler playing on the cold floors and a deadbeat ex-boyfriend who won’t provide for his child, we have the beginning of a plot.

Do you see how the plot and characters are directly affected by the story’s setting?

You might be thinking, “That’s all good and well, but what if I want to create a setting in a science-fiction or fantasy realm?” Let's discuss some tips for writing a compelling fictional setting.

Our top tips for how to write a fictional setting

If you want to create the setting of a story that takes place in a world that doesn’t exist yet, creating a fictional setting is an option! There are few ways to do this. 

How To Write Setting Of A Story

Develop the setting fully before you begin writing

Before you pick up your pen to write, be sure that your setting is fully developed! 

You don’t want to get to the end of your book, only to edit it and find you have to rewrite large portions. Fully developing the setting of a story will save you hours of work later.

Not fully developing your story from the beginning could end with it back in the writing stage after an edit!

Sit down. Answer all the questions in the section on how to research a setting. Make notes, whether that be in a Microsoft document, Scrivener , Pinterest, Evernote , the project notebook method, or some other method.

Think about this: J. R. R. Tolkien had his setting researched so thoroughly that he had books full of information on the world and the characters before he even began writing.

Create your world first

You have an exciting task ahead of you: You get to create a world! And no one can tell you that you’re doing it wrong. However, world-building can be hard.

Not only is it time-consuming, but it’s difficult to form an immediate connection between your setting and your readers.

They won’t have any idea what an “ebony irbit” looks like, and your main character won’t be able to tell them that it’s “fluffy as a bunny” or “that it jumps like a grasshopper” since she’ll have no reference for such things. You’ll have to describe everything in detail.

Create your setting second

Once a fictitious world is built, the setting of a story can be created. 

You need to create every aspect of your story’s setting before you move onto writing your book.

For example, how many suns will your main character look up and see? How many moons?

What about the plant life? Are the plants vibrant or dull? Where do they grow? Are they populous? Are they carnivorous? Do the characters eat of the plants? How do they get the fruit and vegetables?

Are the animals simple pets or advanced creatures? Do they live in peaceful harmony, almost symbiotic, or are they at constant war with the population?

Think outside the box when it comes to creating the setting of a story for a fictional world. 

You need enough details to make the world believable

You need more details in a fictitious setting than you do in a real setting—the reason being that your readers have no frame of reference from which to draw.

For context: People have a pretty good idea what the Manhattan skyline looks like, but you’ll have to describe the horizon of your world looks like in detail.

You indeed want us to use our imagination, but it’s your job to guide it.

We need to know the color of the sky if it’s anything other than blue. We need to know about the acid rain that comes every night and cleanses the land of the evil creatures that dare prowl in the dark.

Tell us about the magician’s lair that Jabesh fell into while running through the woods. Describe the water running down the walls and how he felt a cold chill run down his spine as he peered into the darkness leading toward a single burning torch.

Give us details. Use specific words. Tell us what we need to know, but don’t pile it on. And remember, don’t give it to us all at once!

Learn how to make a fantasy map .

What’s the terrain in the whole country like? Draw it in.

Figure out the important places in your story. What is the capital city of Neiphour? What is the main throughway? Where is Jabesh traveling to? What little towns might he stop at along the way? Even include his favorite hideaway and his fishing hole. Include everything of importance.

Map out the distance between places. This way you won’t have Jabesh taking a two day trip to the city of Lit one day and a half-day trip the following week.

Not only will drawing a map of your world help you create the story’s setting, but it will also help both you and the reader envision little nuances to make it more realistic.

FAQs about story settings

Still have questions about what the setting of a story is, and how to craft a powerful one that hooks readers? You might just need to read more and practice writing settings on your own!

We get a lot of common questions on story settings, so we'll cover some of the most frequently asked questions on the topic.

What are the three types of setting?

The three types of setting are the elements of time, place, and environment (both physical and social). Each of these types contributes to building the setting of a story.

How do you find the setting of a story?

To find the setting of a story, you will have to read through the book or story, and identify sections where the time, place, and environment is being described.

It is easy to identify the setting of a story through detailed descriptions the author may include that tells the reader when and where the story is taking place. An expert author also incorporates elements of setting subtly for the reader, such as through dialogue.

How does setting affect the story?

Setting affects the story by contributing to the plot, character development, mood, and theme. It also affects the story by engaging the reader and helping them visualize the events and context in which the narrative is being told.

What makes a good setting?

A good setting is one that appropriately describes the time, place, and environment of the narrative. A good setting also helps to connect the plot to the characters, and builds the mood and theme appropriately.

Practice writing the setting of a story today! 

You’ve heard several tips and received a lot of information on how to write the setting of a story. I’ve told you how to create an engaging setting. Now, it’s time to practice!

If you need some inspiration to guide you, use this writing prompt generator to help think of things to write about. 

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Go to your desk, pull out your pen and paper, and begin mind mapping your setting. Write the place of your setting in the middle of the paper and circle it.

Now, set a timer for ten minutes. If that doesn’t end up being enough time, work longer.

Write everything you can think of about that setting. You’ll be surprised at how much you know! If your setting is fictitious, all the better. With these tips, and a little practice, you will master the art of setting in no time.

Do you have an idea for the setting of a story?

a creative writing story setting


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Elements of setting: How to create a vivid world

The elements of setting – time, place, mood, social and cultural context – help to make a novel feel real and alive.  Read more about using the ingredients of setting to make your story more vivid:

  • Post author By Bridget McNulty
  • 3 Comments on Elements of setting: How to create a vivid world

a creative writing story setting

The elements of setting – time, place, mood, social and cultural context – help to make a novel feel real and alive.  Read more about using the ingredients of setting to make your story more vivid:

What are the 4 key elements of setting?

The core elements of setting are:

Time in setting  can refer to the length of time in which the story unfolds (as short as a day or as long as 1000 years or more).

Time  can also refer to time period , the historical epoch (for example the Middle Ages) in which your novel is set. [When you brainstorm your core setting in the Now Novel dashboard, answer prompts about both to add time details to your story’s outline.]

Core setting in Now Novel dashboard | Now Novel

‘Place’ is the ‘where’ of story setting. Place in your novel is the geographical location of the story’s events (they take place on a specific planet (or in space), in a specific country, county, city or neighbourhood (or span several).

The ‘mood’ of a story’s setting refers to the tone you create by providing details of time and place. The mood of a dank and rustling wood is very different to that of a bustling, bright metropolis.

Lastly, ‘context’ in setting refers to the way time and place come together to show how elements of setting (such as politics, culture, society) shape (or limit) people’s choices and actions.

Read the following tips on using each of these 4 elements of setting well:

1. How to create a sense of time in a novel

A. use time of day to dramatic effect.

Details such as the time of day add colour and variety to your novel’s mood. Characters leaving on a mission in the dead of night  instead of the daytime may create a much greater sense of urgency, threat or secrecy, for example.

Think also of the symbolic meanings people attach to time in stories. Daybreak can symbolize rebirth, renewal or the return of safety. Nighttime could symbolize danger, mystery or death. Or peace, tranquility, solitude.

Even if you don’t explicitly reference the time of day or year in a scene, it can help to add one to your outline so that you have other details in mind as you draft and describe your scene.

B. Show time passing to create urgency or anticipation

Show time passing in your story setting to help the reader see that the action of your story unfolds within a shifting, changing world.

A classic example of this we return to often is the ending of Evelyn Waugh’s  Brideshead Revisited . The protagonist returns to a grand manor he once knew to find it damaged considerably in the war. This passage of time creates a nostalgic, ‘you can’t go home again’ effect.

A sense of time passing is especially important where there is urgency. In a murder mystery, for example, each passing sunrise and sunset without a new lead is another opportunity for the ‘baddie’ to strike.

Showing how time’s passage changes your setting is a great way to add development to your story’s backdrop.

C. Make your time period realistic

It takes readers out of your story when you have a medieval knight saying ‘that’s sick’ or ‘cool’.

Unless your characters are supposed to time-travel, make sure your time setting is realistic and consistent.

If you’re writing historical fiction in particular, keep a cheat file of every detail about your setting. Research what people ate, wore and believed and how they spoke. You don’t have to include every detail in your draft. Some information is just for you to know, so you can keep details believable.

Elements of setting - infographic | Now Novel

2. How to write place in a book

The second key element of setting, place, is equally as important as time . If your characters’ actions are anchored in a vivid location, they will seem much more real. To make your story locations vivid:

A. Research real locations thoroughly

Setting your book in a real place means that you need to understand it: Not only its geography but also what kind of life a traveler would find there.

To research a real contemporary location:

  • See if it’s available to explore using Google Street View – your own virtual guided tour will make it much easier to describe
  • Read through information about your chosen real-world setting on regional government websites.
  • Read other works of fiction set in the same place and time. Many fiction writers take liberties with describing real places. But creative accounts can develop your own imaginative grasp of a place

Even if your fictional world is entirely made up – a distant planet in the solar system that has been colonized in the year 5000, for example – you can base it on a real world location for inspiration.

Story settings - San Francisco - Christopher Moore quote | Now Novel

B. Show place with description

‘Show don’t tell’ is repeated so often that you’re probably tired of hearing it. But this is especially true for place description in setting.

Instead of just telling the reader that the train rolled into the big city, show the big city . Describe some of its buildings, or its landmarks, or the faces on the station platform [Brainstorm individual locations such as landmarks or a station by creating a ‘small-scale setting’ in the World Builder on Now Novel].

Describe the features that would strike a newcomer most. The better you observe and show place in your novel, the easier it is for readers to enjoy your fictional world.

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C. Go there if possible

If you’re writing about a real place and you’ve never been there in person, go if it’s at all possible. As writer Suzannah Windsor Freeman says, when creating a story setting sometimes ‘research doesn’t cut it’.

Research and looking at photos of the destination combined can give you enough material to create a keen sense of place, but actually walking the streets where your novel is set will help to inspire your storytelling and enrich it with plenty of detail.

3. How to create mood in your story’s setting

Creating a precise mood with your setting is important because:

  • It signals to the reader how they should read the unfolding action: Is there a sense of danger or adventure? Is the story reaching a point of higher stakes or is the action winding down?
  • It creates contrast – the light and shade – that keeps a story’s environments interesting and believable

Some tips for using the elements of setting to establish a clear mood:

A. Use common connotations of places and times

Different places are associated with different things: A mountain pass might be associated with travel and adventure while the seaside might be associated with relaxation and introspection.

Similarly, winter might be associated with introspection or depression while summer is associated with extroversion and a jubilant mood.

If you want to emphasize that a negative situation is turning around for your character, you might show the transition to a new life alongside a change in the seasons.

Underscoring the action of your novel with mood this way heightens its sense of drama and change.

B. Show how time and place affect characters’ moods

You could use the mood of your setting to also reveal aspects of your characters’ personalities and desires.

For example, if your character loves to spend time in a library, this may show that they are an intellectual person (or simply a person who loves books or quiet).

Think about the relation between place and time and how your character might change depending on their surrounds.

4. How  to write context for your story’s setting

Context is one of the most important elements of setting for plot . The social, cultural, historical, political and environmental details tied to time and place shape people’s lives in many ways. Creating this context for story settings is important because:

  • It shows what possibilities and limitations are placed on your characters by their place and time
  • Context gives readers a more detailed sense of your fictional world (readers know how power is divided, how people celebrate, and other cultural details).

To make the context element of your setting more real:

A. Think about how society is organised in your setting

Think about the kind of your society your characters live in. From country to country, different cultural practices are the norm. Think about what the practices will be in your novel’s own place and time. Will your main character uphold these traditions or challenge and rebel against them?

B. Make notes on every aspect of a real-world context

If your novel is set in a real-world time period and location, make notes on all the context-related elements of setting. Do light research and summarize information about:

  • Demographics (what is the social makeup of your setting: What different groups and belief systems occupy the land?)
  • Political system
  • Social views (are most people leftist, centrist or on the right of the spectrum?)
  • Cultural practices (For example, what is the standard greeting? What words or gestures are considered offensive?)

Your novel doesn’t need to reference each of these elements explicitly (a romance novel most likely won’t explore politics). Yet having an idea of the most dominant viewpoints and ways of life of a place and time will help you to create characters and dialogue that feel right for the setting.

Use the ‘Core Setting’ section of Now Novel’s story dashboard to work out your story’s memorable setting .

I started using Now Novel to assist me with my story’s structure. The prompts were helpful in developing my characters, settings, and scenes. The story outline was a valuable asset that guided me through my rough draft. The feedback from my personal writing coach took my writing to the next level. — Kathy


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  • Tags elements of setting , world-building

a creative writing story setting

By Bridget McNulty

Bridget McNulty is a published author, content strategist, writer, editor and speaker. She is the co-founder of two non-profits: Sweet Life Diabetes Community, South Africa's largest online diabetes community, and the Diabetes Alliance, a coalition of all the organisations working in diabetes in South Africa. She is also the co-founder of Now Novel: an online novel-writing course where she coaches aspiring writers to start - and finish! - their novels. Bridget believes in the power of storytelling to create meaningful change.

3 replies on “Elements of setting: How to create a vivid world”

This is the factor that will bring the world that you created to your readers, connecting them to it. That is why you need to put more effort into making your setting come alive.

If you don’t mind, I want to know your thoughts about this blog: https://gregvanarsdale.com/guide-to-creating-vivid-setting-for-your-fiction/

I will surely appreciate your opinions.

Hi Lydia, thank you for sharing that. I would say it could use a little further editing for paragraph structure and length, as well as more headings. Clarity and argument could be tweaked a little too, but it’s on its way.

[…] elements of a setting listed differently depending on where you look. For example, in the article, What are the 4 Key Elements of Setting? By Bridget McNulty, they are listed as time, place, mood, and context. The article, Discover the […]

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The Setting Of A Story: Tips For Creating A Creative Story Setting

  • March 2, 2022
“It was a dark and stormy night…” Opening sentence of  Paul Clifford  by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1830

Even if it best reflects the weather conditions outside, this overused opening phrase has become a great cliché of bad fiction writing. But before it is thrown into the abyss for good, let’s take a look at why it has been so pervasive in fiction for the past two hundred years.

This article will look at the setting of a story, why it is important, and how you can skillfully incorporate it into your own writing.

What Is the Setting of a Story?

The setting of a story is when and where the story occurs. The time and place serve as anchors for a specific atmosphere to be established within the text.

Setting of a story

“It was a dark and stormy night” does what it was meant to do – it establishes the setting of a story.

Setting generally focuses on the time and place within the story you are trying to tell.

It was night (time), and the night was dark and stormy (it doesn’t quite tell us the exact place, but we know it is a place that is dark and stormy.) Yet, the opening line manages to do more than only establish a time and place.

Time and Place

When and where does the story take place? There are infinite possibilities.

It can be the Stone Age, or it could be a Wednesday in London. It can be any period in time or some completely different universe.

The place may be a physical place or even a metaphysical place.

Many variables can be considered when pondering the setting of a story. The time period and physical location are a great starting place, whether it be a real-life story or a work of fiction. But what more can the setting do?

Why Is Setting Important?

The setting is important because it helps in projecting the overall mood of a story. It lets authors provoke the readers’ emotions.

For instance, if the setting is to take place in an old dingy orphanage put up in 1994, that has not been cared for or renovated, the reader may pity the orphans for their terrible living conditions. The setting also suggests that the children may not be well cared for.

However, if the orphanage is tidy, clean, modernized, and has a pleasant homey aura, the reader may feel that the orphans live happily and are looked after during their time at the orphanage.

A change in setting can shift the overall flow of the story.

The setting also creates an opportunity to add detail to the characters and introduce conflicts.

For example, a toxic environment in a highly developed city may justify or explain why a main character suffers from anxiety, therefore introducing the character as anxious and highlighting the internal conflict they are experiencing.

It also gives hints about the story’s message, foreshadows essential plot details, and affects the language used by the characters as language evolves as time passes. For instance, a story set in the 90s will be very different from a story set in 2022 in terms of message, plot details, and language used by the characters.

How Does the Setting Contribute to the Story?

The setting contributes to the story by forming the expectations of the reader. For example, if the story is set in a dark, cold, isolated forest. This sets the scene for what may come next. The setting contributes to the story in terms of being an integral element in crafting the flow of the plot, presenting character traits, and inserting major conflicts.

Setting also dictates which character traits and behaviors are possible and which are not.

For example, people’s uncivilized and violent deeds are likely to dominate in a story that possesses the setting, “the period before civilization.”

In contrast, in a story that happens in a modernized world, characters are expected to be law-abiding citizens, except for some characters, especially the antagonist.

If these modern people behaved as if they lived thousand years ago, then that presents a disconnection between characterization and setting, which confuses the reader. The setting has the power to shape the story.

Setting Ideas

The chosen setting can contribute to the plot’s success or make the story vague, uninteresting, and illogical. Whichever the setting fulfils depends on its alignment with the story, characters, and conflicts.

When you decide on a story’s setting, you can consider human emotions such as what place and time period causes fear, anger, disgust, loneliness, and enjoyment.

Below are some setting ideas you can use, enhance, and tailor to match your story plot before you begin writing.

  • crowded airport
  • renovated animal shelter
  • on-sale bookstore
  • scary lighthouse
  • nursing home
  • mysterious valley
  • freezing mountain
  • deserted island
  • dilapidated factory
  • famous tower
  • tattoo shops
  • police station
  • amusement park
  • miraculous cave
  • most-visited beach
  • children’s playground
  • prestigious university
  • coffee shops
  • retreat houses
  • abandoned hospital

Begin Creating The Perfect Setting In Your Story

1. establishing tone.

Notice that the opening line, “a dark and stormy night,” uses the description of the setting to establish a mood or tone . It goes beyond being just a physical place in time to being a storytelling tool, and using those kinds of tools makes a stronger story.

Yet if you look a little deeper into the purposes of the story setting, you can find a much more meaningful connection to the story you are trying to tell and the characters and ideas within it.

The use of the word “dark” implies a sense of aloneness and potential vulnerability. The word “stormy” also implies a potential danger, especially if something goes wrong in the dark.

The writer is already starting to plant something in your mind while using very few words to do it.

If Bulwer-Lytton had written it as “It was a warm and cozy evening…”, how would the tone differ and establish the setting in the story? It would establish a completely different feeling – and an even more vague setting!

But this shows you the difference between the tone of the two and how the setting of a story has the possibility to play a significant role in anything you write.

setting of a story

2. Experiencing a setting through the main character

Whether establishing a story setting for a fictional world or one based on real life, the reader sees the world through the main character’s eyes and perspective. That gives writers a wealth of information to work with, such as a physical location, the character’s life, and their cultural surroundings. 

You may get further details like a geographical location or a more specific setting, but more often than not, the setting will be experienced through the main character .

Sensory details

As we all do, characters experience the world through sensory experiences, so using the five senses is a vital way to convey setting detail. Characters can see and hear the world as they experience it (or cannot experience it), and how they see or hear it (or not) will be filtered by their own perspectives. 

They may find the smells and tastes of a place like New York City as refreshing and exhilarating, or they may find the bright lights and noise make them feel trapped by sensory overload and anxiety depending on their own personal history.

The same character may feel at home in the stark contrast of a small town or even a different time period, where they would have a different range of sensory experiences. The setting becomes much more than just “time and place” when interlaced with character development . 

Sensory details and setting descriptions filtered through your character’s lives make your reader’s experience richer and more meaningful, as they are emotionally immersed into the setting you are building.

Expressing the world as experienced through characters lives

Whether you are writing about World War II or Middle Earth, your settings will be experienced by the people (or Hobbits) you are writing about.

The geographical location or the historical period you explore will be felt and experienced by your characters as they grow. This can be used from short stories to epic novels. It’s often used in non-fiction writing as a means to help a reader connect with the people in the story.

Other Factors to Consider When Creating Your Story Setting

Before you begin writing , you may be attached to a specific setting or time period. You may already be set on writing science fiction , historical fiction, or setting it in New York City. It doesn’t matter if you want to set your narrative at Hogwarts School.

There will always be room for strengthening the elements of your story through the setting.

It may be tempting to flesh out your world with a comprehensive backdrop setting of the world you created, but do the details move your story forward?

When you consider world-building or establishing the decor of a tea room, don’t inundate your reader with too much information. You’ll lose them in the details.

Consider which details are most important and most relevant.

You can weave in the details you want to be there but focus on the history that is going to strengthen the present in your story.

Your readers are smart people; they’re going to fill in the rest of the details in their heads. You can afford to be efficient here – and save your words for other details.

2. Sociological factors

The setting details of a short story or novel can be greatly influenced by sociological factors affecting the people, history, or even the architecture in your story.

If you’re writing science fiction, you may consider how humans have come to be treated by alien colonists and how class division has affected the world around them. 

If you’re setting your story within a specific time period, you may do some research on the societal and cultural surroundings to see how various groups of people lived at the time. The setting of story will tell you a lot about your characters and vice versa.

3. Geographic location

This may be the first thing people think of when they think of the setting.

Location is essential, as it has a significant effect on all other details in the story. Is your story set in your neighborhood in modern-day or in 19th century Ireland? 

The physical landscape or the world you are introducing will need a strong description of the geographic location (don’t forget to use the five senses) to really establish where the story is unfolding.

Be careful, though; just like with historical details, too much information will lose your reader. You want to focus on details that will help move your story forward or give some illustration to the world around your characters.

Trust your reader’s imaginations to do the rest.

setting of a story

3. The mental state of your character(s)

This also comes back to experiencing the setting through character. How one character may see a beautiful autumn day can vary greatly from the next.

“ The beautiful cascade of colors flashed on the leaves flitting along the ground ” may be one character’s perception of a setting while the next may see the same thing as “ Fall . The time when things die, and their organic waste litters the world of the living. ” Then, of course, there is character development and how the setting might affect that, or vice versa.

4. Time and place as a sliding scale

Think of “time” and “place” as two sliding lines.

Of course, “time” is already a linear line (or is it?), but “place” can be endless things. So if you are fascinated with the history of India, you may consider which part of its timeline interests you most and would best suit the story you want to tell. 

When you start getting into areas such as a post World War II small town or the strange history of a plaza hotel, you can see how integral the same setting can be to the outcome of your story.

Setting and Pace

Typically speaking, a great deal of establishing a setting will come at the beginning of your story.

That’s not to say you won’t use elements of setting later, but if your location isn’t changing or you are staying within a certain place, it’s unlikely that you will focus as much on these details toward the end of your story or book. 

However, don’t forget to use these details in your descriptions because they will still illuminate the tone of your story as well as your character’s experiences within them.

In Conclusion

The setting is as much a part of a great story as what your main characters feel or do. Setting can affect their behavior and play a role in the story itself. It can be a backdrop setting, or it can be a deciding factor in the outcome.

An interesting setting is revealed with the use of sensory information such as what a mountain range looks like, or what the air feels like on the skin, or how the sound of the wind in the trees tickles the tips of one’s fingers.

But it can also reflect a person’s outlook or even change their outlook. It doesn’t have to just be a snapshot of the natural world; it is whatever you want your reader to experience when they read your work.

With descriptions of your setting, use effective adverbs and adjectives that create the necessary feeling for your narrative, but avoid overusing them. Strings of adjectives can become tedious, and adverbs are powerful, but too much power can make your writing look cartoonish.

Find the right balance of description with sensory information, and the reader will be taken along seamlessly for the ride.

Setting can make your entire story – just look at what happened at the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s  The Shining . It can be a background player as well, adding details to any scene when the time is right.

The setting is as essential as any creative tool that you have, along with character development and plot structure.

When outlining your next writing project, don’t forget the vital role that story setting can play.

It isn’t just “a dark and stormy night.” The subtext of those few words implies that it’s also a dreary, loathsome, bitter, howling, damp, and cold night, but in far fewer words.

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Story setting ideas list of writing prompts.

a creative writing story setting

I keep a list of settings. In fact, I keep a list of many things to help jar my creativity while brainstorming—core fears, phobias, careers for characters, character types—just about anything I think might help my brain make a creative cross-connection and get a new idea. I look at brainstorming as a musician practices playing scales—exercising my creativity just makes it stronger.

Of all the lists I keep, story setting ideas is one I use often. When I am freethinking, I close my eyes and point at random. Sometimes when I’m stuck in my manuscript, I look over this list and see if I can’t jar an idea loose. Sometimes I match the settings up. I also use other lists and randomly choose from one list, then the other. Anything to get my creative juices going again.

Here is my list of places or settings for you to begin your own list and use as creative writing prompts.

Story Setting Ideas List

Write about what happens at a(n):

__________ Academy            Abbey                                     Airport

Alley(s)                                   Alligator Farm                       Art Gallery

Art Studio                              Artist Colony                          Auto Junkyard

Ancient Pyramid                  Animal Sanctuary                  Animal Shelter

Animal Research Facility   Art Museum                           Aquarium

Barber Shop                          Baseball Stadium                  Basement

Beach                                      Beauty Salon                          Blood Bank

Blood Drive                           Bookstore                                Botanical Garden

Bridge                                     Buddhist Temple

Cabin                                      Castle                                      Casino

Cathedral                               Cave (Bat, Collapsed, Crystal)

Cemetery                               Center for Disease Control Laboratory

Cheap Hotel                          Chinatown (any city)            Church

Circus                                     City Dump                              City Rooftop(s)

City Street                             Coal Mine                                Coffee House

College Dorm Room           Concert Hall                            Corporate Board Room

Day Spa                                  Distillery

Fairground                             Fishing Boat                           Floating Fish Factory

Football Stadium                  Fort

Garden                                    Graveyard                               Gymnasium

Highway Rest Stop                Hospital                                  Hospital Board Room

Insectarium                          Jazz Club

Landfill                                   Lighthouse                             Logging Camp (Town)

Mansion                                 Mannequin Factory              Medical Laboratory

Mississippi River Barge      Mosque

New Orleans during Mardi Gras

Nuclear Reactor                     Nursing Home

Observatory                           Opera House

Palace                                     Park                                   Pet Grooming Salon

Precious Metal Mine (Gold, Silver, Copper)                      Priory

Prison                                     Police Station                       Pottery Studio

Previously Undiscovered Island

Previously Undiscovered Planet

Principal’s Office

Racetrack                               Rainforest                              Roadside Motel

Roadkill Pickup Truck

Salt Mine                                Sanitarium                             Schoolroom

School Lab                             Secret Hideaway                   Sewer

Shack                                      Shoeshine Stand                   Shopping Mall

Small Town                           Spider Farm                           Steel Mill

Steam Ship (or Boat)          Synagogue

Temple                                   Theater                                  Tower

Trailer Park                           Train Graveyard                  Train Station

Wax Museum                       Wildlife Ranch                       Windmill

Winery                                   Woods                                      Worm Ranch

Story Setting Ideas List, Somewhere Famous

Alcatraz                                              Amazon Rain Forest

Angkor Wat, Cambodia                  Buckingham Palace

Death Valley                                      Disneyland

Easter Island                                     Forbidden City

Galapagos Islands                            Golden Gate Bridge

Grand Canyon                                   Great Barrier Reef

Great Wall                                          Hollywood

Jerusalem                                           Kashmir Valley

Machu Picchu                                    Mount Everest

Nile                                                      Palace of Versailles

Pike’s Peak                                         Pompeii

Potala Palace, Tibet                         Pyramids of Giza and Great Sphinx

Sahara Desert                                   Serengeti

Sistine Chapel                                   Statue of Liberty

Stonehenge                                        Taj Mahal

Tombstone                                         Uffizi Gallery

Valley of the Kings                           Venice (Canals)

The White House                              Zen Garden of Kyoto

Story Setting Ideas, Combine Setting with Another Idea

Insert a place from above into one of the following creative writing prompts and see what happens. As Stephen King says: “…good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun…”

a creative writing story setting

Pet __________ (okay, Pet Cemetery has been done and so has the idea of combining a pet and racetrack ( The Art of Racing in the Rain) but what about other stories including pets? What about pet & theater? Pet & palace? Pet & casino? Pet & circus? Pet & Stonehenge?)

Old Folks __________ (yes, “home” is the first thought, but keep going.) What about old folks & circus? Old folks & college dorm room? Old folks & garden—Yikes! I just had a thought about planting old folk parts and getting…what? Veggies that if you eat them, you become possessed? Or is this garden a connection to the otherworld? Will the garden produce wisdom? Prophets? Or a zombie plague?

See how this works? So get your creative juices flowing and don’t look back.

Abandoned __________ (logging camp, church, fish boat, trailer park…you get the idea)

Haunted __________

A murder at ­­­­­­­­­­__________

A secret at __________

A magical __________

An evil __________

A previously undiscovered __________

__________ in the woods

Old __________ turned into apartments

A __________ shrine

A __________ museum

A __________ graveyard

Story Setting Ideas, Combine Two Settings

Write about a blood drive at a nuclear reactor. Or a roadkill pickup truck at a casino. What about an animal protection sanctuary on city rooftops? A mannequin factory near Stonehenge or a secret hideaway wax museum?

Lots of ideas come to mind—not all good, but that’s okay! The point is to jog your brain (or muse) into generating new connections. As your subconscious tries to make sense of connections, ideas will come. Try it. May many excellent, fresh, exciting ideas come flooding your way!

a creative writing story setting

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a creative writing story setting

August 24, 2012 at 11:30 am

a creative writing story setting

August 24, 2012 at 1:27 pm

You are so welcome, Kim 🙂

a creative writing story setting

September 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Your settings list is great. It just may become my settings list. 😉 For some reason as I scrolled through, “City Dump” piqued my interest the most. Haha.

September 6, 2012 at 6:05 am

I’m glad you find the list helpful, Lauren. You gotta accept inspiration no matter where it takes you, right? 🙂 The settings I seem to choose (or more to the point–that choose me) always end up gritty and less on the “romantic” side of life. Sigh.

a creative writing story setting

April 11, 2013 at 4:15 am

This is great! really useful!! I often use places that I have been as the starting point. In my latest story I used the tomb raider temple that I visted in Cambodia as the base for the setting in one of the scenes. I started with a picture in my minds eye and my imagination did the rest!! Twitter – @anagranimals

April 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Wow, Leith, that sounds like quite a trip! Once I get a “mind’s eye” scene, I do the same, I’m off to the keyboard (or pen–depending on my mood 🙂

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a creative writing story setting

March 7, 2016 at 9:41 pm

hello. I am just beginning to write and I found this website very helpful for my setting. When I finish the book ill put in a note thanking your website.

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a creative writing story setting

January 31, 2018 at 7:20 am

Can’t wait to try this with my homeschool class tomorrow! I have 7th-12th grades.

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Aposiopesis, set your story at a silent retreat..

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a creative writing story setting

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RBE | Short Stories | 2023-02

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Creative Writing Prompts

When the idea to start a weekly newsletter with writing inspiration first came to us, we decided that we wanted to do more than provide people with topics to write about. We wanted to try and help authors form a regular writing habit and also give them a place to proudly display their work. So we started the weekly Creative Writing Prompts newsletter. Since then, Prompts has grown to a community of more than 450,000 authors, complete with its own literary magazine, Prompted .  

Here's how our contest works: every Friday, we send out a newsletter containing five creative writing prompts. Each week, the story ideas center around a different theme. Authors then have one week — until the following Friday — to submit a short story based on one of our prompts. A winner is picked each week to win $250 and is highlighted on our Reedsy Prompts page.

Interested in participating in our short story contest? Sign up here for more information! Or you can check out our full Terms of Use and our FAQ page .

Why we love creative writing prompts

If you've ever sat in front of a computer or notebook and felt the urge to start creating worlds, characters, and storylines — all the while finding yourself unable to do so — then you've met the author's age-old foe: writer's block. There's nothing more frustrating than finding the time but not the words to be creative. Enter our directory! If you're ready to kick writer's block to the curb and finally get started on your short story or novel, these unique story ideas might just be your ticket.

This list of 1800+ creative writing prompts has been created by the Reedsy team to help you develop a rock-solid writing routine. As all aspiring authors know, this is the #1 challenge — and solution! — for reaching your literary goals. Feel free to filter through different genres, which include...

Dramatic — If you want to make people laugh and cry within the same story, this might be your genre.

Funny — Whether satire or slapstick, this is an opportunity to write with your funny bone.

Romance — One of the most popular commercial genres out there. Check out these story ideas out if you love writing about love.

Fantasy — The beauty of this genre is that the possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

Dystopian – Explore the shadowy side of human nature and contemporary technology in dark speculative fiction.

Mystery — From whodunnits to cozy mysteries, it's time to bring out your inner detective.

Thriller and Suspense — There's nothing like a page-turner that elicits a gasp of surprise at the end.

High School — Encourage teens to let their imaginations run free.

Want to submit your own story ideas to help inspire fellow writers? Send them to us here.

After you find the perfect story idea

Finding inspiration is just one piece of the puzzle. Next, you need to refine your craft skills — and then display them to the world. We've worked hard to create resources that help you do just that! Check them out:

  • How to Write a Short Story That Gets Published — a free, ten-day course by Laura Mae Isaacman, a full-time editor who runs a book editing company in Brooklyn.
  • Best Literary Magazines of 2023 — a directory of 100+ reputable magazines that accept unsolicited submissions.
  • Writing Contests in 2023 — the finest contests of 2021 for fiction and non-fiction authors of short stories, poetry, essays, and more.

Beyond creative writing prompts: how to build a writing routine

While writing prompts are a great tactic to spark your creative sessions, a writer generally needs a couple more tools in their toolbelt when it comes to developing a rock-solid writing routine . To that end, here are a few more additional tips for incorporating your craft into your everyday life.

  • NNWT. Or, as book coach Kevin Johns calls it , “Non-Negotiable Writing Time.” This time should be scheduled into your routine, whether that’s once a day or once a week. Treat it as a serious commitment, and don’t schedule anything else during your NNWT unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Set word count goals. And make them realistic! Don’t start out with lofty goals you’re unlikely to achieve. Give some thought to how many words you think you can write a week, and start there. If you find you’re hitting your weekly or daily goals easily, keep upping the stakes as your craft time becomes more ingrained in your routine.
  • Talk to friends and family about the project you’re working on. Doing so means that those close to you are likely to check in about the status of your piece — which in turn keeps you more accountable.

Arm yourself against writer’s block. Writer’s block will inevitably come, no matter how much story ideas initially inspire you. So it’s best to be prepared with tips and tricks you can use to keep yourself on track before the block hits. You can find 20 solid tips here — including how to establish a relationship with your inner critic and apps that can help you defeat procrastination or lack of motivation.


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Explore more writing prompt ideas:

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Christmas Writing Prompts ⭢

Dark Writing Prompts ⭢

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Fall Writing Prompts ⭢

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Halloween Writing Prompts ⭢

High School Writing Prompts ⭢

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Kids Writing Prompts ⭢

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  • Writing Prompts

150+ Story Starters: Creative Sentences To Start A Story

The most important thing about writing is finding a good idea . You have to have a great idea to write a story. You have to be able to see the whole picture before you can start to write it. Sometimes, you might need help with that. Story starters are a great way to get the story rolling. You can use them to kick off a story, start a character in a story or even start a scene in a story.

When you start writing a story, you need to have a hook. A hook can be a character or a plot device. It can also be a setting, something like “A young man came into a bar with a horse.” or a setting like “It was the summer of 1969, and there were no cell phones.” The first sentence of a story is often the hook. It can also be a premise or a situation, such as, “A strange old man in a black cloak was sitting on the train platform.”

Story starters are a way to quickly get the story going. They give the reader a place to start reading your story. Some story starters are obvious, and some are not. The best story starters are the ones that give the reader a glimpse into the story. They can be a part of a story or a part of a scene. They can be a way to show the reader the mood of a story. If you want to start a story, you can use a simple sentence. You can also use a question or an inspirational quote. In this post, we have listed over 150 story starters to get your story started with a bang! A great way to use these story starters is at the start of the Finish The Story game .

If you want more story starters, check out this video on some creative story starter sentences to use in your stories:

150+ Creative Story Starters

Here is a list of good sentences to start a story with:

  • I’ve read about a million stories about princesses but never thought I could ever be one.
  • There was once a man who was very old, but he was wise. He lived for a very long time, and he was very happy.
  • What is the difference between a man and a cat? A cat has nine lives.
  • In the middle of the night, a boy is running through the woods.
  • It is the end of the world.
  • He knew he was not allowed to look into the eyes of the princess, but he couldn’t help himself.
  • The year is 1893. A young boy was running away from home.
  • What if the Forest was actually a magical portal to another dimension, the Forest was a portal to the Otherworld?
  • In the Forest, you will find a vast number of magical beings of all sorts. 
  • It was the middle of the night, and the forest was quiet. No bugs or animals disturbed the silence. There were no birds, no chirping. 
  • If you wish to stay in the Forest, you will need to follow these rules: No one shall leave the Forest. No one shall enter. No one shall take anything from the Forest.
  • “It was a terrible day,” said the old man in a raspy voice.
  • A cat is flying through the air, higher and higher, when it happens, and the cat doesn’t know how it got there, how it got to be in the sky.
  • I was lying in the woods, and I was daydreaming.
  • The Earth is a world of wonders. 
  • The fairy is the most amazing creature I have ever met.
  • A young girl was sitting on a tree stump at the edge of a river when she noticed a magical tree growing in the water.
  • My dancing rat is dressed in a jacket, a tie and glasses, which make him look like a person. 
  • In the darkness of the night, I am alone, but I know that I am not. 
  • Owls are the oldest, and most intelligent, of all birds.
  • My name is Reyna, and I am a fox. 
  • The woman was drowning.
  • One day, he was walking in the forest.
  • It was a dark and stormy night…
  • There was a young girl who could not sleep…
  • A boy in a black cape rode on a white horse…
  • A crazy old man in a black cloak was sitting in the middle of the street…
  • The sun was setting on a beautiful summer day…
  • The dog was restless…”
  • There was a young boy in a brown coat…
  • I met a young man in the woods…
  • In the middle of a dark forest…
  • The young girl was at home with her family…
  • There was a young man who was sitting on a …
  • A young man came into a bar with a horse…
  • I have had a lot of bad dreams…
  • He was a man who wanted to be king…
  • It was the summer of 1969, and there were no cell phones.
  • I know what you’re thinking. But no, I don’t want to be a vegetarian. The worst part is I don’t like the taste.
  • She looked at the boy and decided to ask him why he wasn’t eating. She didn’t want to look mean, but she was going to ask him anyway.
  • The song played on the radio, as Samual wiped away his tears.
  • This was the part when everything was about to go downhill. But it didn’t…
  • “Why make life harder for yourself?” asked Claire, as she bit into her apple.
  • She made a promise to herself that she would never do it.
  • I was able to escape.
  • I was reading a book when the accident happened.
  • “I can’t stand up for people who lie and cheat.” I cried.
  • You look at me and I feel beautiful.
  • I know what I want to be when I grow up.
  • We didn’t have much money. But we knew how to throw a good party.
  • The wind blew on the silent streets of London.
  • What do you get when you cross an angry bee and my sister?
  • The flight was slow and bumpy. I was half asleep when the captain announced we were going down.
  • At the far end of the city was a river that was overgrown with weeds. 
  • It was a quiet night in the middle of a busy week.
  • One afternoon, I was eating a sandwich in the park when I spotted a stranger.
  • In the late afternoon, a few students sat on the lawn reading.
  • The fireflies were dancing in the twilight as the sunset.
  • In the early evening, the children played in the park.
  • The sun was setting and the moon was rising.
  • A crowd gathered in the square as the band played.
  • The top of the water tower shone in the moonlight.
  • The light in the living room was on, but the light in the kitchen was off.
  •  When I was a little boy, I used to make up stories about the adventures of these amazing animals, creatures, and so on. 
  • All of the sudden, I realized I was standing in the middle of an open field surrounded by nothing but wildflowers, and the only thing I remembered about it was that I’d never seen a tree before.
  • It’s the kind of thing that’s only happened to me once before in my life, but it’s so cool to see it.
  • They gave him a little wave as they drove away.
  • The car had left the parking lot, and a few hours later we arrived home.
  • They were going to play a game of bingo.
  • He’d made up his mind to do it. He’d have to tell her soon, though. He was waiting for a moment when they were alone and he could say it without feeling like an idiot. But when that moment came, he couldn’t think of anything to say.
  • Jamie always wanted to own a plane, but his parents were a little tight on the budget. So he’d been saving up to buy one of his own. 
  • The night was getting colder, and the wind was blowing in from the west.
  • The doctor stared down at the small, withered corpse.
  • She’d never been in the woods before, but she wasn’t afraid.
  • The kids were having a great time in the playground.
  • The police caught the thieves red-handed.
  • The world needs a hero more than ever.
  • Mother always said, “Be good and nice things will happen…”
  • There is a difference between what you see and what you think you see.
  • The sun was low in the sky and the air was warm.
  • “It’s time to go home,” she said, “I’m getting a headache.”
  • It was a cold winter’s day, and the snow had come early.
  • I found a wounded bird in my garden.
  • “You should have seen the look on my face.”
  • He opened the door and stepped back.
  • My father used to say, “All good things come to an end.”
  • The problem with fast cars is that they break so easily.
  • “What do you think of this one?” asked Mindy.
  • “If I asked you to do something, would you do it?” asked Jacob.
  • I was surprised to see her on the bus.
  • I was never the most popular one in my class.
  • We had a bad fight that day.
  • The coffee machine had stopped working, so I went to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea.
  • It was a muggy night, and the air-conditioning unit was so loud it hurt my ears.
  • I had a sleepless night because I couldn’t get my head to turn off.
  • I woke up at dawn and heard a horrible noise.
  • I was so tired I didn’t know if I’d be able to sleep that night.
  • I put on the light and looked at myself in the mirror.
  • I decided to go in, but the door was locked.
  • A man in a red sweater stood staring at a little kitten as if it was on fire.
  • “It’s so beautiful,” he said, “I’m going to take a picture.”
  • “I think we’re lost,” he said, “It’s all your fault.”
  • It’s hard to imagine what a better life might be like
  • He was a tall, lanky man, with a long face, a nose like a pin, and a thin, sandy moustache.
  • He had a face like a lion’s and an eye like a hawk’s.
  • The man was so broad and strong that it was as if a mountain had been folded up and carried in his belly.
  • I opened the door. I didn’t see her, but I knew she was there.
  • I walked down the street. I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty.
  • I arrived at my parents’ home at 8:00 AM.
  • The nurse had been very helpful.
  • On the table was an array of desserts.
  • I had just finished putting the last of my books in the trunk.
  • A car horn honked, startling me.
  • The kitchen was full of pots and pans.
  • There are too many things to remember.
  • The world was my oyster. I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth.
  •  “My grandfather was a World War II veteran. He was a decorated hero who’d earned himself a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart.
  • Beneath the menacing, skeletal shadow of the mountain, a hermit sat on his ledge. His gnarled hands folded on his gnarled knees. His eyes stared blankly into the fog. 
  • I heard a story about a dragon, who was said to be the size of a house, that lived on the top of the tallest mountain in the world.
  •  I was told a story about a man who found a golden treasure, which was buried in this very park.
  • He stood alone in the middle of a dark and silent room, his head cocked to one side, the brown locks of his hair, which were parted in the middle, falling down over his eyes.
  •  Growing up, I was the black sheep of the family. I had my father’s eyes, but my mother’s smile.
  • Once upon a time, there was a woman named Miss Muffett, and she lived in a big house with many rooms.
  • When I was a child, my mother told me that the water looked so bright because the sun was shining on it. I did not understand what she meant at the time.    
  •  The man in the boat took the water bottle and drank from it as he paddled away.
  • The man looked at the child with a mixture of pity and contempt.
  • An old man and his grandson sat in their garden. The old man told his grandson to dig a hole. 
  • An old woman was taking a walk on the beach. The tide was high and she had to wade through the water to get to the other side.
  • She looked up at the clock and saw that it was five minutes past seven.
  • The man looked up from the map he was studying. “How’s it going, mate?”
  • I was in my room on the third floor, staring out of the window.
  • A dark silhouette of a woman stood in the doorway.
  • The church bells began to ring.
  • The moon rose above the horizon.
  • A bright light shone over the road.
  • The night sky began to glow.
  • I could hear my mother cooking in the kitchen.
  • The fog began to roll in.
  • He came in late to the class and sat at the back.
  • A young boy picked up a penny and put it in his pocket.
  • He went to the bathroom and looked at his face in the mirror.
  • It was the age of wisdom and the age of foolishness. We once had everything and now we have nothing.
  • A young man died yesterday, and no one knows why.
  • The boy was a little boy. He was not yet a man. He lived in a house in a big city.
  • They had just returned from the theatre when the phone rang.
  • I walked up to the front of the store and noticed the neon sign was out.
  • I always wondered what happened to Mary.
  • I stopped to say hello and then walked on.
  • The boy’s mother didn’t want him to play outside…
  • The lights suddenly went out…
  • After 10 years in prison, he was finally out.
  • The raindrops pelted the window, which was set high up on the wall, and I could see it was a clear day outside.
  • My friend and I had just finished a large pizza, and we were about to open our second.
  • I love the smell of the ocean, but it never smells as good as it does when the waves are crashing.
  • They just stood there, staring at each other.
  • A party was in full swing until the music stopped.

For more ideas on how to start your story, check out these first-line writing prompts . Did you find this list of creative story starters useful? Let us know in the comments below!

150 Story Starters

Marty the wizard is the master of Imagine Forest. When he's not reading a ton of books or writing some of his own tales, he loves to be surrounded by the magical creatures that live in Imagine Forest. While living in his tree house he has devoted his time to helping children around the world with their writing skills and creativity.

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How to Write Better: Inside Investigative Journalist Will Carless’ Award-Winning Career

Featured uc san diego extended studies creative writing program instructor shares winning tips, media contact:.

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From examining book bans across America to white supremacy and online hate groups, the January 6 insurrection, and many compelling issues in between, investigative journalist Will Carless not only has a penchant for an important story, but also feels a civic obligation to uncover the truth to ensure fairness, accuracy, transparency, and accountability.

As a veteran national and international correspondent, he serves as a public watchdog of sorts by uncovering the intricate details of extremism and current events or emerging issues — these days, his byline can be found in USA TODAY .

In his two decades in the profession, the award-winning journalist — who has interviewed presidents, hardcore neo-Nazis, international superstars, and fishermen on the Amazon river — has worked in newspapers, radio, television, and feature films.

“I got into this career because of the altruism of it. I wanted to make the world a better place,” Carless said. “These days I’m less starry eyed than I used to be. But I have to spend eight hours of my day doing something; I could spend eight hours doing something that doesn’t change or improve the world. At least I’m doing something that informs people.”

Imparting expertise

Carless believes that part of that mission should include sharing his expertise with others, including aspiring journalists and those who want to hone their writing and interviewing skills. 

One way he does that is by teaching two courses for UC San Diego Extended Studies: The Writer's Art of Interviewing , which he began teaching during summer quarter 2023, and News and Feature Writing , which he started teaching during winter quarter 2024. Both online courses are elective options within the Professional Certificates in Creative Writing and Science Communication programs. “The Writer’s Art of Interviewing” is also an elective within the Content Marketing Specialized Certificate program


Following the path to the next story

For both of his courses, Carless pulls from his journalist playbook, one that spans across the globe. Carless — who was packing for a weekend trip to Mexico City during this interview — has traveled to more than 80 countries, reporting in most of them. Before joining USA TODAY in 2020, he was a correspondent covering extremism at Reveal, The Center for Investigative Reporting. Before that, he worked as a foreign corresponden t for Public Radio International in South and Central America and was also the Head of Investigations at the Voice of San Diego .

Born in New York, Carless spent most of his youth in Brazil and then England and didn’t have his sights set on journalism — at first. It was after earning a law degree at the University of Exeter that he discovered he wanted to be a journalist and not an attorney. It turned out to be a good choice. Launching his journalism career in 2003 as the Arts & Culture Editor at the La Jolla Light , he has won several international and national awards for his investigative reporting. 

The globetrotting journalist shared some of his career highlights so far, some of which he has explained more in-depth in his Art of Interviewing course. 

“I was standing only a few feet away from Dilma Rousseff in Brazil when she was impeached. That was a historic moment,” he said. “I was also pretty much held up at gunpoint in Brazil, which was a hairy moment. I covered Obama’s visit to Jakarta, which was cool.”

Mining the “gold”

While he has had some once-in-a-lifetime moments, Carless said a big part of being a foreign correspondent is “putting yourself at the right place and right time. It’s jumping on a plane and staying in a crappy hotel room and jumping on a motorbike and finding someone who will talk to you.”

Another memorable assignment Carless likes to share with his students is when he was in a refugee camp on the side of a mountain in Indonesia where people had escaped the lava from an erupted volcano.

“People in Indonesia tend to be very shy and people won’t talk unless they are addressed. It’s very important even if people haven't said anything to acknowledge everyone who is there,” he said. “I went around the circle and asked everybody their name and one guy had his daughter on his lap. He hadn’t said a word.  I asked his name and age and his daughter’s name and age. His daughter's name was interesting — Wahyu Lavania. It means born from the lava. She was born in this refugee camp three years ago when they were also escaping the volcano. That was a memorable interview. The lesson I learned is you do the formalities because you never know what’s going to come out of it. Sometimes you get some gold.”

I was standing only a few feet away from Dilma Rousseff in Brazil when she was impeached. That was a historic moment. I was also pretty much held up at gunpoint in Brazil, which was a hairy moment. I covered Obama’s visit to Jakarta, which was cool.

That “gold” became the lead for Carless’ article, which was published in the New York Times . Here’s an excerpt: 

Karjono knows the Umbulharjo evacuation camp well. It was here, four years ago, while his family was seeking shelter from Mount Merapi’s last spate of eruptions, that his first daughter was born into the chilly mountain air. Mr. Karjono, a hollow-faced 34-year-old farmer from the tiny village of Pangurejo, two kilometers, or a little over a mile, from Merapi’s fiery crater, named his daughter Wahyu Lavania —" A Revelation from the Lava.”

On Thursday night, Lavania huddled against her father and tried to sleep as the evacuation camp hummed around her. The family was among the victims of twin natural disasters that caused havoc in separate parts of the Indonesian archipelago this week.

Sharing compelling tales

Carless likes to use this example during his course to show the ingredients of a compelling story.

“In the class, we break down what makes a good story, before we even think about interviewing. It has to be original, informative and engaging,” he said. “I want people to leave my class with some real practical knowledge.” 

Some of his students are aspiring book authors while others are science writers who want to improve their interviewing skills.

“I've been incredibly impressed with the variety of my students and how accomplished and smart they are,” he said. “I have a lot of professionals who want to do more writing. I’ve had a couple of post-graduate students who want to be science journalists. My ideal student is someone who is going to use these skills the next day.”

Building an equipment checklist

Carless also gives tips on what kind of equipment needed to prepare for an interview: such as a recorder, laptop, battery charger, backup battery for your phone, snacks, and a water bottle.

“You should have a checklist,” he said. “It has taken me 20 years to make sure I have this stuff in my bag ready to go.”

I've been incredibly impressed with the variety of my students and how accomplished and smart they are. I have a lot of professionals who want to do more writing. I’ve had a couple of post-graduate students who want to be science journalists. My ideal student is someone who is going to use these skills the next day.

Inspiring and informing

To some extent, Carless hopes both of his courses will also encourage a new crop of savvy writers who will carry on the torch. While he says the heydays of journalism were “much more swashbuckling and sexy than it is now,” a well-informed and well-written story can help inspire meaningful discussions and even change.

“There are major American communities now with no local news source. It’s pretty terrifying,” he said. “Journalists are like teachers and educators. We put out information so society can make greater informed decisions. It's a small cog in the wheel, but it’s an important one. I’m still proud to be doing it.” 

Creative writing and content marketing certifications

The UC San Diego Extended Studies Professional Certificate in Creative Writing is designed for students and professionals to practice and master the art and craft of good writing, imparting skills to write in a variety of genres. Core creative writing courses are balanced with select electives in areas like Fiction, Creative Non-Fiction, Children’s Writing, Poetry, and/or The Business of Writing in order to develop more specific skills.

The Specialized Certificate in Science Communication is designed to provide current and future science professionals with the skills to communicate effectively about science from a journalistic perspective. Students will learn the art of making science relevant and more accessible to different audiences.

The Content Marketing Specialized Certificate is aimed towards strategic storytelling skills for the creation and distribution of content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and targeted audience. Students learn how to drive profitable customer action by building and retaining audiences and increasing ROI (return on investment) through the development of valuable and accessible content.

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Creative Story Writing with Symbol Cubes

Creative Story Writing with Symbol Cubes

Subject: English

Age range: 5-7

Resource type: Unit of work

Teaching and Learning Resources  for Early Learners and KS1

Last updated

9 February 2024

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a creative writing story setting

A complete lesson or unit of work linked to Creative Writing for SEND, EYFS, and KS1 children. Children roll the Story Cube dice and use the resulting symbols as prompts for storytelling and writing. There is a step by step planning sheet with suggestions on how to make, introduce and use the Story Cubes in lessons. There are 7 colour Story Cube templates: Story element cube, What, Where, When, Who, Where, Date and Feelings cubes. These can be cut out and assembled into dice. An additional resource shows 3 creative stories to share with children which utilize story element symbols:

  • The Prince and the Little Squirrel
  • The Big Fluffy Monster and the Special Day
  • Eli the Elf and the Shiny Dragon Story cubes can be an invaluable resource to engage children in narrative creation, regardless of their reading or writing ability. The cubes introduce a sensory element to learning, which can be particularly beneficial for SEND children, helping them to communicate ideas and emotions through storytelling in an accessible manner.

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ChatGPT vs. Microsoft Copilot vs. Gemini: Which is the best AI chatbot?


Artificial intelligence (AI) has transformed how we work and play  in recent months, giving almost anyone the ability to write code , create art , and even make investments . 

Special Feature


The Rise of Generative AI

A new wave of AI tools has taken the world by storm and given us a vision for a new way of working and finding the information that can streamline our work and our lives. We show you the ways tools like ChatGPT and other generational AI software are making impacts on the world, how to harness their power, as well as potential risks.

For professional and hobbyist users alike, generative AI tools, such as  ChatGPT , offer advanced capabilities to create decent-quality content from a simple prompt given by the user. 

Keeping up with all the latest AI tools can get confusing, especially as Microsoft added  GPT-4 to Bing  and renamed it to Copilot,  OpenAI added new capabilities to ChatGPT , and Bard got plugged into the Google ecosystem  and rebranded to Gemini.

Also: Microsoft Copilot Pro vs. OpenAI's ChatGPT Plus: Which is worth your $20 a month?

Knowing which of the three most popular AI chatbots is best to write code , generate text , or help build resumes is challenging, so we'll break down the biggest differences so you can choose one that fits your needs. 

Testing ChatGPT vs. Microsoft Copilot vs. Gemini

To help determine which AI chatbot gives more accurate answers, I'm going to use a simple prompt to compare the three: 

"I have 5 oranges today, I ate 3 oranges last week. How many oranges do I have left?"

The answer should be five, as the number of oranges I ate last week doesn't affect the number of oranges I have today, which is what we're asking the three bots. First up, ChatGPT.

You should use ChatGPT if...


1. You want to try the most popular AI chatbot

ChatGPT was created by OpenAI and released for a widespread preview in November 2022. Since then, the AI chatbot quickly gained over 100 million users, with the website alone seeing 1.8 billion visitors a month. It's been at the center of controversies , especially as people uncover its potential to do schoolwork and replace some workers.


The free version of ChatGPT, which runs on the default GPT-3.5 model, gave the wrong answer to our question.

I've been testing ChatGPT almost daily since its release. Its user interface has remained simple, but minor changes have improved it greatly, like the addition of a copy button, an edit option, Custom Instructions , and easy access to your account. 

Also: How to use ChatGPT

Though ChatGPT has proven itself as a valuable AI tool, it can be prone to misinformation . Like other large language models (LLMs), GPT-3.5 is imperfect, as it is trained on human-created data up to January 2022. It also often fails to comprehend nuances, like it did with our math question example, which it answered incorrectly by saying we have two oranges left when it should be five. 

2. You're willing to pay extra for an upgrade

OpenAI lets users access ChatGPT -- powered by the GPT-3.5 model -- for free with a registered account. But if you're willing to pay for the Plus version, you can access GPT-4 and many more features for $20 per month.

Also: How to write better ChatGPT prompts for the best generative AI results

GPT-4 is the largest LLM available for use when compared to all other AI chatbots and is trained with data up to April 2023 and can also access the internet, powered by Microsoft Bing. GPT-4 is said to have over 100 trillion parameters; GPT-3.5 has 175 billion parameters. More parameters essentially mean that the model is trained on more data, which makes it more likely to answer questions accurately and less prone to hallucinations.


ChatGPT Plus, which runs using the GPT-4 model, did answer the question correctly. 

As an example, you can see the GPT-4 model, available through a ChatGPT Plus subscription , answered the math question correctly, as it understood the full context of the problem from beginning to end.

Also: I tried Microsoft Copilot's new AI image-generating feature, and it solves a real problem

Next up, let's consider Microsoft Copilot (formerly Bing chat) , which is a great way to access GPT-4 for free, as it's integrated into its new Bing format. 

You should use Microsoft Copilot if...


1. You want more up-to-date information

In contrast to the free version of ChatGPT, which is limited to being an AI tool that generates text in a conversational style with information leading up to early 2022, Copilot can access the internet to deliver more current information, complete with links for sources. 

Also: How to use Copilot (formerly called Bing Chat)

There are other benefits, too. Copilot is powered by GPT-4, OpenAI's LLM, and it's completely free to use. Unfortunately, you are limited to five responses on a single conversation, and can only enter up to 2,000 characters in each prompt. 


Copilot's Precise conversation style answered the question accurately, though other styles fumbled.

Copilot's user interface isn't as straightforward as that of ChatGPT, but it's easy to navigate. Though Bing Chat can access the internet to give you more up-to-date results compared to ChatGPT, I've found it is more prone to stall at replying and altogether miss prompts than its competitor. 

2. You prefer more visual features

Through a series of upgrades to its platform, Microsoft added visual features to Copilot, formerly Bing Chat. At this point, you can ask Copilot questions like, 'What is a Tasmanian devil?' and get an information card in response, complete with photos, lifespan, diet, and more for a more scannable result that is easier to digest than a wall of text. 


All about the Tasmanian devil on Microsoft Copilot.

When you use Copilot, you can also ask it to create an image for you. Give Copilot the description of what you want the image to look like, and have the chatbot generate four images for you to choose from. 

Also: How to use Image Creator from Microsoft Designer (formerly Bing Image Creator)

Microsoft Copilot also features different conversational styles when you interact with the chatbot, including Creative, Balanced, and Precise, which alter how light or straightforward the interactions are. 


Both the Balanced and Creative conversation styles in Microsoft Copilot answered my question inaccurately.

Finally, let's turn to Google's Gemini, formerly known as Bard, which uses a different LLM and has received some considerable upgrades in the past few months.

You should use Gemini if...


1. You want a fast, almost unlimited experience

In my time testing different AI chatbots, I saw  Google Bard catch a lot of flack for different shortcomings . While I'm not going to say they're unjustified, I will say that Google's AI chatbot, now named Gemini, has improved greatly, inside and out.

Also: How to use Gemini (formerly Google Bard): Everything you should know

Gemini is speedy with its answers, which have gotten more accurate over time. It's not faster than ChatGPT Plus, but it can be faster at giving responses than Copilot at times and faster than the free GPT-3.5 version of ChatGPT, though your mileage may vary. 


Gemini answered accurately, like GPT-4 and Copilot's Precise conversation style.

The previous Bard used to make the same mistake as other bots on my example math problem, by incorrectly using the 5 - 3 = 2 formula, but Gemini, powered by Google's new Gemini Pro, the company's largest and latest LLM. Now, Gemini answers the question accurately.

Also: Apple's new AI model edits photos according to text prompts from users

Gemini is also not limited to a set amount of responses like Microsoft Copilot is. You can have long conversations with Google's Gemini, but Bing is limited to 30 replies in one conversation. Even ChatGPT Plus limits users to 40 messages every three hours. 

2. You want the full Google experience


Google also incorporated more visual elements into its Gemini platform than those currently available on Copilot. Users can also use Gemini to generate images, can upload photos through an integration with Google Lens , and enjoy Kayak, OpenTable, Instacart, and Wolfram Alpha plugins.

Also: 6 AI tools to supercharge your work and everyday life

But Gemini is slowly becoming a full Google experience thanks to Extensions folding the wide range of Google applications into Gemini. Gemini users can add extensions for Google Workspace, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Flights, and Google Hotels, giving them a more personalized and extensive experience.

Artificial Intelligence


ChatGPT vs. Copilot: Which AI chatbot is better for you?


Google reportedly rebranding Bard to Gemini, adding 'Advanced' subscription service


The best AI chatbots: ChatGPT isn't the only one worth trying

a creative writing story setting

Example prompts to try with Microsoft Copilot with Graph-grounded chat

Experience the power of Get started with Microsoft Copilot with Graph-grounded chat  (formerly named Microsoft 365 Chat). See how much time you can save and how much more you can get done. Use Microsoft Copilot to catch up, create content, and ask questions. This article provides several example prompts you can try.

Tip:  When you’re giving Copilot instructions, you can direct it to specific work content by using the forward slash key (“/”), then typing the name of a file, person, or meeting.  If you write a prompt and don’t reference a specific file, person, or meeting, Copilot will determine the best source of data for its response, including all your work content.

Synthesize large amounts of data into simple, consumable responses and catch up on things quickly. Here are some examples:

You've been on vacation now you're back. You need to find out what's going on with Project X. Find the latest about Project X. What's the current timeline? When are deliverables due?

You've just joined a new team and you're trying to ramp up on recent activities. Summarize team communications over the last 30 days. What are the team's priorities? 

There's been a recent change in how your team is tracking work. Find information about the new way our team is tracking work. Include email communications and points of contact for questions.

Create content

Brainstorm ideas and draft new content based on information at work. Here are some examples:

You want to draft a one-page description of a new project (let's call it Project Foo) that's just about to kick off at work. Using information in file1, file2, and file3, write a one-page description of Project Foo. Write it so non-technical people can understand what the project is about and when it's scheduled to be completed.

You're preparing an email to invite customers to attend an upcoming conference and visit your company's booth. Using information in Document Z, write a fun, catchy email inviting our customers to come see us at our booth during next month's conference.

You want to plan a morale event for your team. List 3-5 ideas for group activities in the Seattle area that would be suitable for my team. Include approximate cost and time estimates. 

Ask questions

Find information and get answers quickly, even if you can't remember where the information you need is or how it was shared. Here are some examples:

You need to know what's left in the budget for supplies. How much did we spend on supplies for Project Foo?  How much budget do we have left for Project Foo?

Your team received customer feedback. You want to identify the top things your team should address. Review the feedback we received from customers via email last week. What are the top three issues we should address?

Overview of Microsoft Copilot with Graph-grounded chat

Use Copilot at Microsoft365.com

Use Copilot in Teams

Use Copilot at Bing.com


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