Putting Plot in its Place

So in my post on cultural context, I discussed on the importance of social setting in a text, and of course how social context is affected by geographical setting. In this post, I’d like to delve a little deeper into the impact of geographical setting on a reader, as opposed to its impact on the plot.

Where is your favourite novel set? Is it in an imaginary land of fantastical beasts, such as the medieval town of The Castle (and the surrounding lands) where the Septimus Heap books are set? Is it set in a place that is closely tied to reality and geographical locations, but is slightly askew and cannot be found on an actual map, such as Hogsmeade? Or is it seeped in realism, based in a certain place, for example the West of Ireland, but isn’t actually a geographical location (but no one but people from the area would actually know this) such as the small rural town JB Kean’s Field is based in? Is it set in an actual, real location that you could find on a map and go to visit, if you so wished, such as the books in The Twilight Saga?

Setting plays a huge part in setting the tone of the books, but what impact does it have directly on the reader? I think it depends on what type of reader you are: whether you like to be completely immersed in the world of the book, or if you like to appreciate the story from a bit of a distance. This reading experience is closely linked with the way your favourite books are written: immersive readers tend to prefer first-person narrative, while observationalists may choose third-person.

I stand up willing to be proven wrong, but I think immersive, first-person-loving readers settings saturated in realism, such as those Stephenie Meyer writes (both in The Host and in The Twilight Saga), that exist in the actual world and are true to life down to minute detail, such as the names of the nearby roads, forests, and beaches. Observationalist readers tend to prefer imaginative settings, often not based in our world, where books such as Angie Sage’s Magyk are set. Preferring third person, they do not feel the same need to be part of the story that immersive readers do: they do not need to feel that the plot could happen to them, in this world, right now.

Then there is the middle ground, where most books that are mainly about the dramas of daily life lie. They are based in an area (East Coast, USA; rural France; a village in Norway, ect.) but the place names do not actually exist. The setting can be quite specific, down to a state or province, but still be made up. People who aren’t from the area or who don’t have local knowledge probably wouldn’t know the difference, but these books can sometimes lack a highly detailed description of the setting (which may work with the book just fine), as they don’t have the physical place to describe nor the compulsion to imagine every last detail of a fantastical land.

Where does that leave people who love books about dystopian societies set in the future? I’m open to suggestions! Where is your favourite book set? How do you think the setting affects you as a reader?

(also, apologies again to the subscribers who got a few typos first time round!)


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