Let’s Talk About Setting

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Welcome to my blog series, Let’s Talk, where I’ll be dissecting all the parts of a romance book from the covers to the characters. I’ll share some of my favorites, talk about pet peeves, and discuss why each element is so important to the overall story.

Every book has a setting, whether it’s an apocalyptic world, a bustling city, a space colony, or a small town in the mountains. When done right, the setting can almost take on a life of it’s own and even be it’s own character.  It can be written so well you feel like you can walk down the street right that moment and know exactly what’s there. I feel like a great author understands the importance of setting the scene. So often we only talk about the importance of the setting when we’re discussing worldbuilding for fantasy, PNR, or sci-fi romances but really it should be important in any genre or subgenre.

So what makes a setting successful? For me, the biggest thing is that it’s immersive and all encompassing. The reader can truly feel like they are there, in that place or world, experiencing the joys and the struggles. Great settings might not reveal every nook and cranny, but what it does reveal grabs the reader and pulls them along for the ride. As a reader I want to see, hear, smell, and touch so that I understand why your character wants to live there or maybe why they hate it.

So here are a few examples of books that have really excelled when it comes to setting:

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Made Up or Altered Worlds

When it comes to fantasy or science fiction I expect a lot from the author. I want to know why the world is the way it is, I want to know the history of the world, and I want to see the world grow and change as I read the series.

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The Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh is probably my favorite example of excellent and complex worldbuilding. Everything is so detailed and if you’re reading the whole of the series, then you see so many changes as the structure, governments, power groups, and societies shift. Each book just adds to more of the worldbuilding and I am continually blown away by it.

One of my favorite post-apocalyptic worldbuiding examples, the Hell Squad series by Anna Hackett, is just brilliant. I’ve never been to Sydney, Australia, but after reading this series I feel like if I ever visit I’ll actually be sad not to see an alien ship sitting in the bay. In this series, the setting is enhanced by the tech, the weapons, and the medical advances of this world and when I read them I can practically hear the alien dinosaurs stomping around.

The League series by Sherrilyn Kenyon is set in space among an entire universe of planets and alien races and it’s a truly gritty, grim, and adventurous system. I actually had to stop reading this series for a while because this outlaw universe was so heavy and I needed a break. That’s how strongly written this world is and how deeply emotional these books are.

I’ve read A LOT of vampires books but Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breeds series always stands out for me because it’s unique in a lot of ways. The worldbuilding of the Breed society is done really well and there are so many levels to it. This series is also a bit different because it actually goes from a world that is oblivious to vampire’s existence to having that existence forced upon the humans.

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Vibrant Cities

Capturing the bustle and style of a big city can be challenging. The reader wants to feel a part of the city but also doesn’t want to feel like they’re reading a stereotype that they’ve seen in hundreds of other books, movies, or shows.


Roan Parrish’s Midnight Fed serial which is sent through her newsletter but can also be found at the link is set in New York City. The later issues really get into setting and I love it so much! In particular the characters use an urban exploration app which lets them learn about the history of the city by visiting different locations. I feel like I’m seeing NYC in a completely new light compared to other books that just gloss over the big city lights and skyscrapers.

A long running series, the Dark Hunter Universe by Sherrilyn Kenyon, has most of it’s early books set in New Orleans and the flavor of the Big Easy comes through so well. In fact, years later when I visited New Orleans I walked around and saw so many places I had read about and I loved that experience.

Set in a historical San Fransisco, the Roaring Twenties trilogy by Jenn Bennett is immersed in the wonders of prohibition, Chinatown, and old school mobs. I’ve never been to San Fransisco but every time I read a book set here I feel like it’s the coolest place. Exploring the underground and the speakeasies of this city was so much fun!

Also set in New York City, the In Death series by J.D. Robb is a futuristic, fast paced, NYC that in many ways is still the same but in others is so different. I love how detailed that Robb has made this world, but considering the series is over 45 books long, she’s had plenty of time to develop it. Every time Eve, the main character, goes into the city for a case I feel like I’m there with the fast cards, screeching brakes, yelling sidewalk vendors, and light smog.

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Small Towns

Small town romances are often filled with whimsical store fronts, beautiful seasonal weather, quirky townspeople, and noisy neighbors. I’m a suburban girl at heart but when I read the below books, I found myself ready to move to a small town and open my own business on some cute main street. When I finished the books, I felt like I was saying goodbye not just to the characters but to the town itself.

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Nora Robert’s Chesapeake Bay series is one of my favorite all time series and I love this small town in the North East. Though the town itself is well illustrated for the reader the townspeople are what really creates the setting for this series. They appear throughout the series and they create a wonderful small town north eastern flavor.

The Harvest Cove series by Kendra Leigh Castle was a town that I loved and my heart definitely moved there while I was reading them. There’s a main street where many of the characters own businesses and it acts as a central location for most of the series. Castle does a great job of describing buildings, parks, and stores that I felt like I was there.

Northern Lights by Nora Roberts is just a single title but it so embraces strong setting development that I could practically feel the frostbite after reading this. It’s a bit different in small town terms because it’s actually a suspense but it so epitomizes the trope: everyone knows everyone, they help each other out, and the way of life is slower and more laid back. Roberts does an excellent job of helping the reader immerse themselves in this town.

Sometimes the setting is just there in the background but other times it’s a big part of the story. I love well developed settings and often the books I enjoy the most have very well created settings or worlds. Not all readers are as focused on settings, but for me it’s important.

Come back in May to check out the next in the Let’s Talk series where I’ll be covering Heroes!

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What are books you’ve read with excellent settings?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Setting

  1. Wow, great post! In my reviews I typically talk a bit about the setting and world-building, which is definitely more noticeable and prevalent in fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal and worlds that are “other” than our own. I also see a lot of world building in small town romances (like you said) with cute shop fronts, neighbors where everyone knows each others’ business, usually at least one or two wacky characters…

    Even in settings that are more typical for what the reader might be familiar with, the setting and world-building can add such richness to the story. So the main character lives in an apartment. Does she have noisy neighbors whose kids’ footsteps are heard thundering up and down the stairs at all hours? Is there a neighbor who routinely burns things, or cooks pungent foods whose smells invade the building? Do the neighbors know each other, or are they strangers with no idea who is living a wall away? Is the building newer and sturdily built, or older with paper-thin walls so you can hear Mr. and Mrs. 2C every time they have their regularly scheduled Tuesday night sex?

    It’s also important to not get so wrapped up in the details of the setting that the reader gets bored with your chapter long description of a hill. (I’m looking at you, Tolkien…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. haha, yes oh boy Tolkien! I read those in middle school and was like “what is all this?”

      You are so right about setting and it’s a fine balance for authors to give enough to anchor the story without overwhelming everything. I personally like a strong setting description but I’ve also read books that take it way too far.


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