How do you describe the setting of a short story including time, place, weather conditions, traditions/customs/dialect? Could you give me an example please?

1 Answer
Apr 30, 2016

You can do this in the text and in the dialogue.


A great example of this can be found in any Sherlock Holmes story. In A Scandal in Bohemia , the narrator establishes in the first two pages that he is in Victorian London in early 1888, that the protagonist Holmes has a variety of habits that would not sit well with the modern world, and that he has a conflicted view of women in general and one in particular.

A little game that Holmes and Watson play is, Holmes will look at Watson's clothes and deduce a lot of details from them. From their brief conversation, we discover that Watson is newly married, that his medical practice has prospered to the point that he has moved out of downtown London, that he has hired a maid and will likely fire her soon, and that recent rains have resulted in a lot of mud in the roads.

Holmes has been successful in his enterprise as well, having solved a number of politically delicate cases in a short time involving European royalty (which were a lot more common 130 years ago than they are today).

By giving us the conversation between two detail-oriented characters, we learn a lot about the physical and political climate of London in 1888, the class and professional standing of both Holmes and Watson, their habits and customs, and even the political climate of Europe as a whole, all through a first-person narration.

More traditionally, an omniscient third-person narrator will just say all of these things outright. But Arthur Conan Doyle's preference was to put two--and then three--eccentric personalities in a tiny room and let their secrets spill out.

Read the first two pages of any short story you enjoy and see how its author lays out the details!