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For other meanings, see setting.

In fiction, setting includes the time, location, and everything in which a story takes place, and initiates the main backdrop and mood for a story. Setting has been referred to as story world [1] or milieu to include a context (especially society) beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. Elements of setting may include culture, historical period, geography, and hour. Along with plot, character, theme, and style, setting is considered one of the fundamental components of fiction.[2] A setting is the time place and social environment a story takes place.


Role of setting

Setting is a key role in plot, as in man vs. nature or man vs. society stories. In some stories the setting becomes a character itself. [3] In such roles setting may be considered a plot device or literary device.

The term "setting" is often used to refer to the social milieu in which the events of a novel occur.[4] Novelist and novel-writing instructor Donna Levin has described how this social milieu shapes the characters’ values.[5] For example, the average citizen of Berkeley in the 1960s had very different attitudes towards authority, money, and pre-marital sex than those of the Antebellum South.

Types of setting

Settings may take various forms:

See also


  1. ^ Truby, 2007, p. 145
  2. ^ Obstfeld, 2002, p. 1, 65, 115, 171.
  3. ^ Rozelle, 2005, p. 2.
  4. ^ Lodge, 1992, pps. 58-60.
  5. ^ Levin, 1992, pps.110-112.


  • Levin, Donna (1992). Get That Novel Started. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0898795176. 
  • Lodge, David (1992). The Art of Fiction. London: Martin, Secker & Warburg Ltd. ISBN 0140174923. 
  • Obstfeld, Raymond (2002). Fiction First Aid: Instant Remedies for Novels, Stories and Scripts. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 158297117x. 
  • Rozelle, Ron (2005). Write Great Fiction: Description & Setting. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 158297327x. 
  • Truby, John (2007). Anatomy of a Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. New York, NY: Faber and Faber, Inc. ISBN 9780865479517. 

, the fictional realm that is the setting for L. Frank Baum's "Oz" series.]] A fictional universe is a self-consistent fictional setting with elements that differ from the real world. It may also be called, variously, a fictional realm, fictional world or imaginary world. The terms multiverse, parallel universe, alternate history, story or screen bible, backstory and crossover have a considerable amount of overlap with fictional universes.

A fictional universe can be almost indistinguishable from the real world, except for the presence of the invented characters and events that characterize a work of fiction. It can also bear little or no resemblance to reality, with invented fundamental principles of space and time. The subject is most commonly addressed in reference to fictional universes that differ markedly from reality, such as those that introduce entire fictional cities, countries, or even planets, those that contradict commonly known facts about the world and its history, or those that feature fantasy or science fiction concepts such as magic or faster than light travel, and especially those in which the deliberate development of the setting is a substantial focus of the work.



What distinguishes a fictional universe from a simple setting is the level of detail and internal consistency. A fictional universe has an established continuity and internal logic that must be adhered to throughout the work and even across separate works. So, for instance, many books may be set in conflicting fictional versions of Victorian London, but all the stories of Sherlock Holmes are set in the same Victorian London. However, the various film series based on Sherlock Holmes follow their own separate continuities, and so do not take place in the same fictional universe. Even if the fictional universe involves concepts, such as magic, that don't exist in the real world, these must adhere to a set of rules established by the author.

The history and geography of a fictional universe are well-defined, and maps and timelines are often included in works set within them. Even languages may be constructed. When subsequent works are written within the same universe, care is usually taken to ensure that established facts of the canon are not violated.

A famous example of a fictional universe is Arda, of J. R. R. Tolkien's books The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. He created first its languages and then the world itself, which he states was "primarily linguistic in inspiration and was begun in order to provide the necessary 'history' for the Elvish tongues."[1]

Virtually every successful fictional TV series or comic book develops its own "universe" to keep track of the various episodes or issues. Writers for that series must follow the story bible,[2], which often becomes the series canon. For example, the American sitcom Friends posits a universe where the soap opera Days of our Lives has a continuing character named Dr. Drake Ramoray and the actor in that role often hangs out at the fictional coffee shop Central Perk. Spin-off TV series (for example, Friends spin-off Joey and fellow NBC sitcoms Mad About You and Seinfeld) are often set in the same universe. Superman resides in the fictional municipalities of Smallville and Metropolis, both of which have extensive backstories.

Frequently, when a series gets too complicated or too self-inconsistent (because of, for example, too many writers), the producers or publishers will introduce retroactive continuity (retcon) to make future editions easier to write and more consistent. This creates an alternate universe that future authors can write about. These stories about the universe or universes that existed before the retcon are usually not canonical, unless the franchise-holder gives permission. Crisis on Infinite Earths was an especially sweeping example.


Sir Thomas More's Utopia is one of the earliest examples of a cohesive fictional world with its own rules and functional concepts but it comprises only one small island. Later fictional universes, like Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian stories or Lev Grossman's Fillory, are global in scope and some, like Star Wars, Honorverse, or the Lensman series, are galactic or even intergalactic.

A fictional universe may even concern itself with more than one interconnected universe through fictional devices such as dreams, "time travel" or "parallel worlds". Such a series of interconnected universes is often called a multiverse. Such multiverses have been featured prominently in science fiction since at least the mid-20th century.

The classic Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror" introduced the Mirror Universe, in which the crew of the Starship Enterprise were brutal rather than compassionate. The 2009 movie Star Trek created an "alternate reality" and freed the Star Trek franchise from continuity issues. In the mid-1980s, DC comic books' Crisis on Infinite Earths told of countless parallel universes that were destroyed.


A fictional universe can be contained in a single work, as in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, or in serialized, series-based, open-ended or round robin-style fiction.

In most small-scale fictional universes, general properties and timeline events fit into a consistently organized continuity. However, in the case of universes that are rewritten or revised by different writers, editors or producers, this continuity may be violated, by accident or by design—film productions are notorious for altering fictional canon of written series.

The occasional publishing use of retroactive continuity (retcon) often occurs due to this kind of revision or oversight. Members of fandom often create a kind of fan-made canon (fanon) to patch up such errors; "fanon" that becomes generally accepted sometimes becomes actual canon. Other fan-made additions to a universe (fan fiction, alternative universe, pastiche, parody) are usually not considered canonical unless they get authorized.


Shared universes often come about when a fictional universe achieves great commercial success and attracts other media. For example, a successful movie may catch the attention of various book authors, who wish to write stories based on that movie. Under US law, the copyright-holder retains control of all other derivative works, including those written by other authors. But they might not feel comfortable in those other mediums or may feel that other individuals will do a better job. Therefore, they may open up the copyright on a shared-universe basis. The degree to which the copyright-holder or franchise retains control is often one of the points in the license agreement.

For example, the comic book Superman was so popular that it spawned over 30 different radio, television and movie series and a similar number of video games, as well as theme park rides, books and songs. In the other direction, both Star Trek and Star Wars are responsible for hundred of books and games of varying levels of canonicity.

Fictional universes are sometimes shared by multiple prose authors, with each author's works in that universe being granted approximately equal canonical status. For example, Larry Niven's fictional universe Known Space has an approximately 135 year period in which Niven allows other authors to write stories about the Man-Kzin Wars. Other fictional universes, like the Ring of Fire series, actively court canonical stimulus from fans, but gate and control the changes through a formalized process and the final say of the editor and universe creator.[3]

Other universes are created by one or several authors but are intended to be used non-canonically by others, such as the fictional settings for games, particularly role-playing games and video games. Settings for the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons are called campaign settings; other games have also incorporated this term on occasion. Virtual worlds are fictional worlds in which online computer games, notably MMORPGs and MUDs, take place. A fictional crossover occurs when two or more fictional characters, series or universes cross over with one another, usually in the context of a character created by one author or owned by one company meeting a character created or owned by another. In the case where two fictional universes covering entire actual universes cross over, physical travel from one universe to another may actually occur in the course of the story. Such crossovers are usually, but not always, considered non-canonical by their creators or by those in charge of the properties involved.

See also


  1. ^ Foreword to The Fellowship of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. ^ How to Give Maris Hives, Alphabetized (April 2008), a blog entry by scriptwriter Jane Espenson
  3. ^ Flint, Eric and various others. Grantville Gazette III. Thomas Kidd (cover art). Baen Books. pp. 311–313. ISBN 978-1-4165-0941-7, ISBN 1-4165-0941-0. "The print published and e-published Grantville Gazettes all contain a post book afterword detailing where and how to submit a manuscript to the fictional canon oversight process for the 1632 series." 

Simple English

A fictional universe is an made up world that is used as the setting for one or (more commonly) many works of fiction. It is often used in books but can be used in any form used to tell a story, for example role-playing games, television or movies. It can be said that every work of fiction makes a world of its own. A fictional universe is used when things in a story become a part either of other stories, or of games or other things.

Fictional universes are most often used in science fiction and fantasy stories but they can be used in any type of fiction. A fictional universe usually has certain things in them that make them different from the real world. These things could affect anything from cities the author created to entire galaxies. In most fictional universes, the laws of physics are different to let things exist which commonly do not, for example, magic or space travel to other planets. Fictional universes may also take place in any time period during the past, present, or future.


Examples of fictional universes

There are many examples of fictional universes. They are often used to provide a common theme to many different types of things.

The Star Wars expanded universe

The Star Wars expanded universe is a fictional universe that was started from the first Star Wars movie Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977. The movie created a universe full of people and planets with space travel to other worlds, Alien creatures, and a type of magic. Two later movies were made that took place in the same fictional universe the movie created. After that, many books, comic books, and video games were made that created new characters, places and stories all taking place in that same universe. Most of this took place either during the time of the first three movies or created more of the story of the universe as time passed after the story told in the movies ended. Three additional movies were also made that took place in the same universe, but at an earlier period of time. This lead to writers creating more stories about the history of the characters and their worlds.

The Buffyverse

In 1997, writer and director Joss Whedon created a television series called Buffy the Vampire Slayer from a movie he had written several years before. The stories of the television series mainly took place in the fictional town of Sunnydale, California. The series had creature such as vampires and werewolves. It also dealt with magic. Over time, as the series went on and more and more stories were written, it developed into what is called the Buffyverse. While the focus of the main story and its characters was just one town, the events of the story and the rules the universe followed had effects on other towns, parallel worlds, other dimensions, and even other periods of time. Characters from the show were used to make another show, Angel which took place in Los Angeles but still had demons and vampires. The universe has been used in many books as well as several video games. While the series was still being made, several other writers were also making comic books which told stories that took place during the same time of the series. Whedon himself wrote a series of comic books dealing with a vampire slayer named Fray from several hundred years in the future. Whedon is currently writing a new comic which is often nicknamed Season Eight. It tells the stories of what happens to the characters from the series after its seven seasons as a television series.

Other examples

Nearly every type of fiction has its own created universe. Many of these examples started in one category and now exist in many of them. For example, Harry Potter started out as a series of books then moved to movies and then video games.

Movies and television
Video games
Role-playing games
  • Forgotten Realms - Fantasy creatures and magic
  • Dragonlance - Dragons and magic

Other pages


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