What Are Archetypal Settings?

The archetypal settings represent the different locations that are found in literature. The article will explore what each setting has to offer, as well as how it can be used by writers.

Every writer should consider using different archetypes for their work because they provide a fresh perspective on a story and make the writing more interesting.

In this blog post, we will discuss some of these types of settings and why you might want to use them.

What are archetypal settings?

Archetypes in literature are stories that we all immediately recognise because they have heard simple fairy tale type versions of them when very young.

Thus, the rags-to-riches story; the misunderstood character whose gifts and powers are only revealed later; the quest where a series of trials are overcome; the supplanted heir; and so on.

Archetypal settings are where stories of those types typically take place. For the most part, fairy tales would be an archetypal story type and the setting would be magical, mythical, or unrealistic in nature.

Have you ever read a horror story that took place in broad daylight?

Probably not very often, since “dark and scary nights” tend to be where horror movies take place.

Understanding the archetypes associated with different settings can help reinforce tone, foreshadowing, and theme.

Archetypal settings notes:

  • Themes that are found in stories and myths
  • Stories that are set in a specific time period or place
  • Story settings can be used to make the story more interesting
  • A setting that is a physical place
  • A setting that is an emotional state or mood
  • A setting that represents the protagonist’s inner life

Why is setting important?

Setting can be an important aspect of story crafting and without a clear setting, your plot and characters end up in the empty abyss.

A setting is one of the tools that you can use to help create a certain world within your story. Try using settings in an early chapter or in other places where there is more detail and less dialogue so that it has greater impact.

24 Archetypal Settings You NEED To Know

Archetypes are fundamental “building blocks” of storytelling. Certain characters, plots and settings show up over and over in stories from all over the world and in all time periods. These archetypes have special symbolic meanings.

Here are some examples of archetypal settings


A river can be associated with the process of crossing into a new chapter in your life or for example, baptism.

A river crossing often represents a boundary of some kind, like going from one life phase to another or experiencing new challenges.

The Garden

The garden setting can be associated with Purity, Solitude, Reflection, Quest for Meaning.

The contrast between the garden and the forest is significant. The garden is planned, organized, safe from worldly distractions and has a beauty found only in nature.

The Wasteland

In opposition to the Garden, the wasteland setting can be associated with loneliness, desolation, despair; the place where there is no growth

The Maze or Labyrinth

The maze setting can Represent a puzzling dilemma or great uncertainty; sometimes represents the search for a monster within himself.

The Castle

The castle setting can be associated with a strong place of safety; holds the treasure or princess; may be bewitched or enchanted; may represent home or some other safe place.

The Tower

The tower setting can be associated with a strong place where evil resides or where the self is locked away from society and fellowship.

The Tree

The Tree setting represents life and knowledge; growth, proliferation; symbol of immortality

The Wilderness/Forest

The Wilderness/Forest setting symbolises Fertility. Those who enter often lose their direction or rational outlook and thus tap into their collective unconscious. Unregulated space is opposite of cultivated gardens. A place where rules don’t apply, and people and things run wild

The forest is unpredictable and so it’s dangerous. It’s a place where sometimes the normal rules of society don’t apply. Creatures, people and magic are free to run wild in nature.

The Threshold

The Threshold setting is A gateway to a new world the hero must enter to change and to grow.

The Sea

Humans want to control and call the shots, but nature laughs at this view.

The Sea setting can symbolise a few things:

  • Waves may symbolize measures of time and represent eternity or infinity
  • Vast, alien, dangerous, chaos
  • The mother of all life; spiritual mystery; death and/or rebirth; timelessness and eternity
  • Death and rebirth (baptism); the flowing of time into eternity; transitional phases of life cycle
  • Water offers the opportunity for a rebirth into its depths.

The Desert

The Desert setting can be associated with Spiritual aridity; death; hopelessness.

Deserts provide an escape that allows you to explore your thoughts and escape the constraints of daily life.

The Underworld

The Underworld setting can be associated with the place where the hero encounters fear or death

The Crossroads

The Crossroads setting can be associated with a place of suffering and decision

The Winding Stairs

The Winding Stairs setting can be associated with the long and difficult way into the unknown

Islands, Ships at Sea

Islands, Ships at Sea settings can all be associated with the spiritual, mental, and physical isolation or exile


The Mountains setting can be associated with personal achievement; meeting place of earth and heaven; a spiritual peak.

Being at the peak of a mountain can offer characters insight and clarity.


The Caves setting can be associated with a descent into the unconscious or inner self; a place to face innermost fears.

The underground is often represented as a perilous journey, challenging the protagonist to overcome their worst fears.


The Bridge setting can be associated with a link between worlds


The Haven setting is a place of safety where the hero may be sheltered for a time while he or she regains health or strength. It can come in many forms and contrasts sharply against the dangerous wilderness.


The Tavern setting is located on the edge or outlying spaces; a jumping off point. The place visited by the hero before beginning the actual adventure. A place where the rumors and travelers from abroad – those who have been out there and have experienced what lies beyond – meet and exchange information. An alternate setting that functions similarly is the seaport.


The Day as a setting represents safety, knowledge, and order


The Night as a setting represents danger, a lack of knowledge, and disorder.


The City as a setting represents order, law, harmony, civilization


The Rock as a setting represents stony place of suffering

Setting Archetypes in Literature

William Goldman’s Lord of the Flies uses as many setting archetypes as it can. The main characters are isolated on an island set in a deserted sea, chased by threats from the forest while taking refuge in the lagoon and often climb to light up their signal fire high on top of the mountain

The sun in the west was a drop of burning gold that slid nearer and nearer the sill of the world. All at once they were aware of the evening as the end of light and warmth.

The setting for the book shifts with time as well. There are different symbols and locations that represent deepening revelations, and it is reflected in the tone of the characters.


Often writers, especially those of short fiction, leave the details to be talked about later.

Sometimes these details are never revisited or brought back into the story and become uninteresting in service of a larger theme within a story.

Always make sure to use the setting in any story as it can add depth and meaning without other archetypes, which can help

Discover Your Personality Type Today →