When most people think about plotting a story, they usually think of how a villain can keep throwing obstacles in the hero’s path. Since the villain can’t physically block the hero, the villain often has henchmen who do the villain’s bidding. A simple example of this occurs in James Bond movies where the villain sends an army of henchmen to kill James Bond but they all fail. Finally, the villain sends his most talented and dangerous henchman after James Bond who nearly defeats him, but also fails. Then James Bond can finally confront and defeat the villain.
While the villain must constantly scheme against the hero, think of the setting as another villain that works against the hero. The setting involves physical places that make the hero’s task of defeating the villain much harder.
Start with the hero’s goal and then come up with a setting that directly conflicts with the hero’s goal. In “Titanic,” the hero’s goal is to avoid marrying a man she doesn’t love. To make matters worse, she’s trapped on an ocean liner with this man so she cannot get away from him
In “WALL-E,” the hero’s goal is to find someone to love. To make matters worse, once he finds someone to love, he’s damaged with his only spare parts back on Earth.
In “Die Hard,” the hero’s goal is to get back with his wife. To make matters worse, he’s trapped in a skyscraper with terrorists trying to kill him.
The setting must make matters worse for the hero. In “Titanic,” an ordinary city would be easier for the hero to escape being around the villain, so an ocean liner makes her problem of escape harder.
In “WALL-E,” being damaged is only threatening when the hero’s far away from his spare parts. Being in a spaceship far away from Earth makes his task of getting repaired again almost impossible.
In “Die Hard,” being trapped in a skyscraper means he can’t escape from terrorists and help can’t easily reach him. His goal of getting back with his wife is nearly impossible with terrorists hunting him down within the limited confines of the skyscraper.
Choose your settings well so they make your hero’s life harder. When your setting makes your hero’s path to a dream seemingly impossible, that’s when you’ll know you’ve found the right setting.