While prepping for the upcoming Virtual Conference for Novelists, it occurred to me that I have my favorite heroes and villains of literature. But what about the best settings in literature?
I mean, the Harry Potter series of books would be so different without Hogwarts. Winston's experiences in 1984 wouldn't have been quite the same in Las Vegas as Oceania. And don't even get me started on Middle Earth.
So let's take a look at the best settings in literature. And be sure to let me know which places I forgot to mention that are tops on your list.
Erica Wright will be presenting "Setting the Scene: Using Place to Advance Your Story" in the second annual Writer's Digest Virtual Conference for Novelists. It will help writers incorporate setting in novels while advancing the plot of the story.
But there will also be five more presentations at the conference tackling topics as diverse as handling action scenes in novels, crafting characters your readers will love (and love to hate), writing effective dialogue, and so much more! Plus, all attendees are invited to submit a query for critique from a literary agent.
Best Settings in Literature
Hogwarts - Harry Potter series
Okay, I mentioned it first in the intro paragraph (and 7 books in my 30 book challenge list are Potter novels). So yeah, Hogwarts, that fantastic school of witchcraft and wizardry is tops on my list. A school filled with witches and wizards is pretty cool on its own. But there are ghosts, a poltergeist, secret rooms (and passages), incredible (and dangerous) beasts of all sizes, elves, moving staircases, talking portraits (and hats), and plenty more. And that's just the actual school building. There's, of course, the school grounds, including a crazy forest and lake that are filled with magic too! It's really a character in its own right.
Overlook Hotel - The Shining
Speaking of settings that are characters, the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's The Shining is a special sort of evil. It has a troubled history that includes deaths of guests and a fatal incident of cabin fever involving a former caretaker who murdered his family. Of course, the novel involves a new caretaker (a recovering alcoholic with anger issues) occupying the hotel during the winter months with his family. What could go wrong? A lot if the spirits in the Overlook Hotel have their way.
Wonderland - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
This story begins with a bored 7-year-old girl named Alice, who follows a walking and talking White Rabbit down into a rabbit hole, which leads to the not-so-boring Wonderland. In Wonderland, Alice meets the Cheshire Cat, a hookah-smoking Caterpillar, the Hatter, and The Queen of Hearts. Peter Pan's Neverland and Dorothy's Oz are great settings too, but Wonderland appeared first and still feels contemporary today.
Gotham City - Batman
If there's one place I know I never wanted to visit as a kid, it was Gotham City. I had no idea where it was located on the map, but I knew (I knew!) that everyone who walked the streets in Gotham City was a shortcut through an alleyway away from being mugged and fatally shot. Or kidnapped. Or sprayed with some chemical agent concocted by the Joker, Scarecrow, or the Riddler. But then again, you can't have comics' greatest superhero without the comics' most off-kilter city to protect. Gotham City needs Batman, and Batman needs Gotham City.
Middle Earth - The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Okay, so Middle Earth is actually like an entire planet (or continent or country or something). It's pretty big and filled with places. The Shire, Rivendell, Mordor, that place where the Balrog shall not pass. Tolkien took worldbuilding to the next level, and it makes all his stories that much more immersive and believable.
Oceania - 1984
In 1984, Winston Smith lives in the totalitarian super state of Oceania, which is in perpetual war with two other totalitarian super states: Eurasia and Eastasia. While readers see the world through Winston's eyes, it's pretty much implied that life is the same in these other two territories. Winston's world is filled with contradictory state messages, state surveillance, and an intense loathing of individualism. Orwell's early working title of The Last Man in Europe gives a good sense of how Winston is destined to fight against his surroundings, which are working incessantly to drive the humanity out of him.
221B Baker Street - Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes is the most popular detective of literature, and he lives at 221B Baker Street. At times, Dr. John H. Watson rooms with him, and landlady Mrs. Hudson maintains the lodgings. While London and the surrounding areas are surely an important setting for the Holmes stories, he often uses 221B Baker Street as his home base.
Efrafa - Watership Down
Rabbits journey to several warrens and establish roots in their new home of Watership Down. But the desolation of Efrafa is what stuck with me in this novel. Efrafa is a sort of Oceania in which everyone is monitored, marked, and allowed above ground only during very regimented times. And its leader, General Woundwort, is so fixated on the Efrafan way of life that he pursues anyone who tries to upset his ordered world...or leave it.
These are my eight favorite settings, but I realize there are so many more. Share your favorites in the comments below. Maybe Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, Christopher Robin's Hundred Acre Wood, or Heathcliff's Wuthering Heights.
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community, specifically working on the Market Books, WritersMarket.com, and maintaining the Poetic Asides blog. He loves a story that transports him to a specific place, especially if it enhances the actual story. Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.