The Importance of Setting

Article by Charles Matthau.

When you read scripts for a living, you get used to shooting them down if they don’t grab you within the first few lines. What makes it so easy to turn a film down based on those first few lines? For starters, volume has a lot to do with it.

The audience also plays a role. If a show doesn’t grab them within the first few minutes then it’s doomed to fail. Script readers know this and dispatch scripts that don’t grab them accordingly.

What you need to do is establish everything up front. You should strive for the first ten pages of your script to be completely engrossing. How do you do it? You establish setting and build character.

Setting is more than that establishing shot, or the opening prose that describes the scene. Setting can include conventions, such as opening a script with a mysterious object (a la sci-fi movies). It’s also the culture and society of your story. Especially as those elements relate to the time period.

Before You Begin Writing

Ask yourself some questions about the world you’re trying to build.

  • Who inhabits your world?
  • What are their homes like?
  • What kind of people are they, collectively?
  • How do they handle conflict, and how can you reflect their attitudes and beliefs based on the world around them?

If you can establish some of these elements within the first few pages, you have a better chance of grabbing someone’s attention. Setting helps you establish the fourth wall, so don’t be afraid to bring the viewer into your space and paint a picture they can feel and smell.