Setting Up New Adult

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NA In Depth, Part 2 — Setting the Mood

It’s Thursday, and that means it’s #nalitchat night on Twitter. At 9pm EST be sure to log in and follow the #nalitchat hashtag for a great insightful and curious discussion about New Adult literature.

This week’s topic is about setting in new adult fiction, and is the second part in a larger discussion series that seeks to dig deep into the aspects of fiction — from both a writer’s and a reader’s perspective. If you missed last’s week NA In Depth discussion on characters, you can read the chat transcript here. And something I’ve wanted to highlight for a few weeks now are these tweets by Kristan Hoffman, who I think summarized well in 140 characters or less the basic boundaries of each category — MG, YA, NA, and Adult. (Read from bottom up, as that’s the way timelines work in Twitter.)

These tweets are an easy & quick snapshot to refer to when thinking more specifically about aspects of any category, and in the case of these chats, the new adult category.

Host of #nalitchat, EJ Wesley, has also written a post — Setting the Mood in NA — that includes helpful links about setting in general. It is useful to read the more generalized setting-related resources that writer’s use when working on craft with an eye towards how those “tricks of the trade” might be manipulated in new adult.

My two cents:


In a non-fiction course I took in my undergraduate career (I was a creative writing major, for those that don’t know), we had a unit on writing setting as character. Essentially, we learned how to personify setting, how to give setting a weight that drove both plot arc and character development. We learned that the physical setting of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to end up — if it’s a city, a style of house, a remote island with no human contact, a dense jungle with threatening creatures — these places impact how people change & grow, and who people are as a result.

The point is always this: how a “new adult” perceives the setting around him or her is important to story advancement. Setting is a dynamic piece of a story, and it should be used to it’s fullest dynamic potential. It’s more than just, “This story is set in Minneapolis” or “this story takes place on a college campus” or “this story is about a girl who works in the restaurant.”  Minneapolis, a college campus, and the restaurant are the physical spaces that influence, and sometimes quite literally direct, the girl’s actions and movements; and the events that take place in these defined, physical spaces determine our perception.

The physicality of setting — the dimensions of a room, the decorations on a wall, the vastness of a park, the solitude of a deserted island — can both develop and confine a story, a character, and/or an event. Use setting wisely and with purpose.


There is this single-minded conception (as opposed to a misconception which isn’t exactly the right word here) that NA fiction is about college students and for college students. It’s really not.

It can be about that and for that particular audience. That’s OK. But it’s not just about college / for college.

I think discussions about settings will go a long way to broaden this single-minded conception. The physical spaces for growing and developing as a twenty-something person is, I think, also broadened. (Because of my age, my independence, and my responsibilities, I simply spend more time in more places now as a twenty-four year old than I did as a teenager; the places I frequented as a teen were actually quite limited.)

The take-away:

In all writing, setting is complex and dynamic, but how these settings are used and internalized by a NA character is going to be unique to NA.

Let’s just take a look at the expected college student on a college campus setting: there are probably secondary settings of importance (a workplace, a bar, an apartment) and micro-settings of importance (a dorm room, a classroom, the library, the gym) that contribute in meaningful ways to the overall development and help drive action and epiphany.

Finally, to return full circle to my original non-fiction course intro, I wrote a piece in that class during the setting-as-character unit about my first childhood home. It was house I lived in until I was six years old, and yet, it came back to me in an epiphany moment of my early twenties. When it came back to me, something interesting occurred to me: I can only ever remember the house from the perspective of being a young child. Those particular memories are forever, at most, six years old. And yet, that young-child memory influenced my 20-year-old self more than anything else of more recent, and probably more logical, reasoning.

To me, that piece from that class, and that moment that’s now itself a memory, is what makes writing about growing up in your twenties so completely fascinating and meaningful.





  1. Thanks so much for the “signal boost,” and I’m glad that you liked the way I broke things down! Of course there are other ways to differentiate between these categories, but I thought this covered a lot of ground. It also focuses on character, which seemed to be the sub-theme last week.

    As for setting, I’m looking forward to tonight’s conversation. I’ve only recently come to understand how much setting is a factor for me as a writer (and perhaps as a person). As you have so rightly pointed out, New Adulthood is when people typically get to explore new places — by going to college, traveling, or just moving out of the house they grew up in. That change in scenery is definitely symbolic, representative of a new phase and all the accompanying growth.

    And yes, I do hope that in talking about setting, we can help reinforce that New Adult literature is not just for/about college students.

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