When I started writing stories in New Glory several years ago, I refused to call it a setting. I couldn’t tell you why, but I knew somewhere in the back of my mind it was something much bigger than that. When I started hanging around game writers, I picked up the term “story world”, which seemed much more fitting for the place I was building in my mind, in my notes, in my stories.
Over the last couple of weeks, the online writing program I’ve been participating in has been discussing setting, which turned into a discussion of “world” vs. “setting”. So many writers learn and practice setting, the when and where of a story. So many science fiction and fantasy writers learn setting, but then learn and practice worldbuilding, the wider space that contains the when, where, and culture. The first group, after listening to the idea of world and how it works, were definitely open to exploring how that affects their own practices with setting.
As part of the discussion, we were asked to think about our own definitions of world and setting. It was crazy how many of us described “world” as the much larger landscape where many stories can happen. For those of us more used to thinking in terms of worldbuilding, it was amazing how many of us described “setting” as the place and time where this one story happens.
And that’s really how it goes. “World” is the bigger picture, the cultures, the lives, the geography, the boundaries. “Setting” is where the character was when the story happened. If we were to discuss this in terms of the real world, “world” might be your home country and “setting” might be the corner pub. It’s that simple.