When crafting a novel, setting is key. By setting, I mean more than the location where a book takes place: a drawing room, Mars, Scranton or Paris. A story needs to occur somewhere in time as well.
Both location and time setting are key elements in fiction writing. They should contribute to the story’s atmospheric mood. A book’s chosen time setting will also play a role in characterization—for example, if a character’s whale bone corset squeezes, or if a character is a technological whiz.
Scores of readers love historical novels and launch them upon bestseller lists. However, if your fictional story is set in the past without a substantive reason, you may want to give further thought to its time setting. When crafting a novel, this issue of time setting is not always given its due importance.
Looking at a novel’s pitch, I might ask a writer, “Why does your story take place in 2006?” The answer should not be, “Because that’s when it happened.”
Fiction stories often (maybe always) stem from real life experiences but that answer indicates a lack of imagination. If a novel is set in 2006, it should be because the time setting of 2006 plays a role in the plot.
The reason a novel takes place within a certain time period should have thematic resonance in the story.
Greater commercial appeal
Readers of commercial fiction especially enjoy plots set in the present. A story may feel more vital and exciting if it’s envisioned happening in the here and now—that keeps those pages turning!
Certainly, editors at the major publishing houses favor stories with contemporary settings.
Don’t date your novel
You want your novels to sell and sell forever, right? It may be in your best interest to obfuscate exactly when the story takes place. The optimal time setting may be indeterminate. A career author may try to make their book as timeless as possible: their story is set “Now,” whenever that is.
Let the reader fill in the year.
Efforts at timelessness (or perpetual timeliness) can be especially fruitful when writing a series with a repeating character. Bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman has penned 31 thrillers featuring psychologist Alex Delaware, but Alex remains a sensitive hunk of about the same middle age. Without noticeably wrinkling, he’s cycled through a few women, circling back to Robin. This isn’t a criticism or complaint. I don’t want Alex Delaware to get old. Neither do the rest of his devoted fans.
When is your novel set, and why? Share with us on Facebook.