Why are some settings better than others? When it comes to writing, especially in fantasy and science fiction, the author has a chance at creating something new, at transporting the reader to a location completely unlike our own. But why do some of these leave lasting impressions and others fade into the background in otherwise great stories.
When discussing the Harry Potter franchise some people talk about Harry, Ron and Hermione, about Hagrid and Dumbledore about Umbridge and Voldermort but they also talk about Hogwarts and Diagon Alley and as the Autumn and Winter season approaches people will start to talk about heading down to Hogsmeade.
Hogwarts and Hobbiton, two fictional settings so beloved they have permanent real world constructions that fans make pilgrimages to year after. There are other settings such as the multiple London’s in V.E. Schwab’s “A Darker Shade of Magic” series and Erin Morgernstern’s “The Night Circus” which people hail as vivid and that gain some respect, though not on similar level. Understandably, most of this can be chalked up to pure sales numbers.
But if all it takes is a popular story to have a popular setting then why aren't there others? Nevernight, Six of Crows, The Name of The Wind. All popular books in their own right with fans ready to talk about their love for the respective series, plot or characters but to a much lesser degree their setting.
Why is this?
I believe in the end it’s fairly simple. We want somewhere that can be a home.
There are theme parks of Hogwarts and Hobbiton because although there are dangers that take place in these worlds and indeed in these settings largely we spend a lot of time in these places feeling safe and happy.
We claim our wands in diagon alley and all the wonder of the wizarding world, we have feasts and celebrations in the great hall and largely our time in Hobbiton is one long party in one of the most idyllic settings you can think of. We love these places because we can be happy there, we can escape to them.
And that’s tough to do.
In fiction we want conflict, and tension and suspense. For the modern audience at large, spend too long in one place relaxing and enjoying yourself then you run a risk of them putting down the book due to bad pacing or being boring.
Just another reason why writing high quality fiction is extremely tough. If you want memorable settings it can't just be a setting. It has to be woven in with character and plot to keep the story interesting. And if you really want us to fall in love with the setting, to discuss locations in the same breath as character and plot twists, then make it somewhere we want to visit. Make it somewhere we could call home.