Today is part three in this four part series of case studying classics! As you probably gathered by the title, today’s classic of choice is Pride and Prejudice. And the element of fiction that we will be studying from this classic is: setting.
For the longest time I wanted to ignore the fact that setting in a story is, well, kind of an important element. Sure I always added one (it’s not like I can very easily drop my characters into nothingness), but I never put much thought into it. Setting was simply the place in which my story landed, whether that be a forest, a small town, or the big city. It didn’t really matter to me where the story was set.
It wasn’t until earlier this year that it finally dawned on me the true importance of setting. I was at a writing conference listening to a session by PeggySue Wells and, suddenly, it all clicked into place. Setting is way more important than writers ever give it credit!
It wasn’t easy deciding on a classic to best describe this the way I want to, but I finally landed on Pride and Prejudice. Most of you, I’m sure, know the story of Pride and Prejudice. It’s about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy and their rather tangled road to romance. The setting: England, late 1700’s to early 1800’s.
Now, this story as a whole is remarkable and well written. I could spend a four part series on this classic alone. So you may be wondering why out of all the awesome elements in this book–the characters, subplots, theme–I picked the setting. Well, dear reader, continue on and you shall see.
Take a moment and imagine this story placed in any other setting. Let’s pick the characters up, so to speak, and place them in any other genre you can think of. How does it play out in your head? Is it the same, or different?
My bet is that it’s different. Not by much, I’m sure. I mean, this story has been retold in so many different forms in all sorts of genres–it can be done. But this exact story, can it be moved?
The answer is no.
Sure you can take the romance, the enemies-to-lovers-trope, even the matchmaking meddling mother and retell the story in any other setting, but this story can not be retold accurately in any other place. Because England in this time period is very unique. Placed anywhere else and you couldn’t have the great importance of four to five thousand pounds a year, or the importance of every woman of eligible age finding a husband–such great importance, in fact, that Elizabeth’s own best friend would marry a vicar who comments on excellent boiled potatoes for the sake of comfort instead of love. You wouldn’t have any of this and more, because of the setting.
You see, when you’re coming up with a setting for your story, you need to ask yourself, can this story be placed anywhere else? If the answer is yes, I suggest you continue looking for a setting until you find one where the story simply can’t be placed anywhere else. Because the setting is more than where the story takes place, or, at least it should be.
I think the setting should play into your story just as much as the theme or characters do. It should be a vital part of your story. And you can use things from your setting to enhance your story!
Take Love and Other Great Expectations by Becky Dean for example (I just reviewed this book last Friday, you can find it here). This book starts in California but it quickly moves to England where the main character along with several of her classmates go on a scavenger hunt type adventure. They travel throughout England where they learn about authors such as Charles Dickens and where his stories were set. They even go to Scotland because it’s part of the hunt.
But because of the way this scavenger hunt is laid out, they couldn’t have done it anywhere but these places. It wouldn’t have been the same if it had been set in Texas or Italy. It couldn’t have been set in either of those places because of the way the story played out.
Are you grasping my point?
The depths of setting can be hard to understand, I know. I just finally understood it earlier this year! But I hope you take some time to delve deeper into learning about it because, if you do, you can make your story all the more richer because of it.
Do you understand the importance of setting in a story? Do you see how Pride and Prejudice couldn’t have been placed anywhere else? Where is your story set and how is it important (a.k.a. can it be placed anywhere else)?