Once you know how your hero changes from a dead end life in the beginning to a better life (and a better person) in the end, the main goal is to create problems. Problems can be anything, but random problems simply distract from the story. The real purpose of obstacles in a plot is to force the hero to change and one way to do that is through setting.
The overall setting of the story must contribute towards the hero’s goal by providing the greatest dramatic setting possible for that story. There are two ways to do this:
- Make the setting work against the hero
- Make the setting provide a huge opportunity for the hero
In “Titanic,” the hero is an upper class woman who feels trapped into agreeing to an unhappy marriage. So where does this take place? On a ship where she’ll be trapped with no where to escape. That setting simply highlights the hero’s plight even more.
In horror movies, the horror partially comes from the hero being trapped. That’s why the hero in “Don’t Breath” is trapped in a house and the hero in “It Comes at Night” is trapped within an isolated house in the middle of nowhere. While the hero can theoretically leave this house in “It Comes at Night,” there lurks so many dangers out in the woods that the hero is effectively trapped.
Setting typically puts the hero in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation that he or she isn’t prepared to deal with. In “Legally Blonde,” the hero must travel to Harvard Law School, which is dramatically more serious than her southern California upbringing. In “Beverley Hills Cop,” the hero goes from the streets of Detroit to the stranger world of Beverley Hills.
Sometimes the setting doesn’t work against the hero so much as it provides a bugger world than the hero initially expected. In “Star Wars,” the hero wants to leave his uncle’s farm and see out an adventure. So the story takes place in a world where conflict is already brewing between good and evil. Instead of just having an adventure, Luke must have the greatest adventure of all time by saving freedom in the galaxy.
In “Wonder Woman,” the hero wants to stop Ares, the god of war, and save mankind. So the story takes place during World War One where much of the world is already fighting. Instead of just stopping mankind from fighting, Wonder Woman must save mankind from the first World War.
Setting must work against the hero or provide a huge opportunity for the hero. If the setting of your story doesn’t do either, chances are good your setting isn’t helping your story.