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The setting of a novel or script refers to where any event takes place. A novel or script can have one setting, or many; the settings can be as small as a single room, or as large as an entire universe (or multiverse). Settings can be realistic, unrealistic, or something in between.

Fictional universe

A fictional universe may also be called, variously, a fictional realm, fictional world or imaginary world. The terms alternate universe, multiverse, parallel universe, alternate history, story or screen bible, backstory and crossover have a considerable amount of overlap with fictional universes.

A fictional universe is a self-consistent fictional setting with elements that differ from the real world.

A fictional universe can be almost indistinguishable from the real world, except for the presence of the invented characters and events that characterize a work of fiction. It can also bear little or no resemblance to reality, with invented fundamental principles of space and time. The subject is most commonly addressed in reference to fictional universes that differ markedly from reality, such as those that introduce entire fictional cities, countries, or even planets, those that contradict commonly known facts about the world and its history, or those that feature fantasy or science fiction concepts such as magic or faster than light travel, and especially those in which the deliberate development of the setting is a substantial focus of the work.

Fictional location

Fictional locations are places that exist only in fiction and not in reality. Writers may create and describe such places to serve as backdrop for their fictional works.

Fictional locations vary greatly in their size. Very small places like a single room are kept out of the umbrella of fictional locations by convention, as are most single buildings. A fictional location can be the size of a university (H.P. Lovecraft's Miskatonic University), a town (Stephen King's Salem's Lot), a county (Raintree County), a state (Winnemac in various Sinclair Lewis stories), a large section of continent (as in north-western Middle-earth, which supposedly represents Europe), a whole planet (Anne McCaffrey's Pern), a whole galaxy (Isaac Asimov's Foundation books), even a multiverse (His Dark Materials). In a larger scale, occasionally the term alternate reality is used, but only if it is considered a variant of Earth rather than an original world. Austin Tappan Wright's Islandia has an invented continent, Karain, on our world.

Fictional country

Fictional countries appear commonly in stories of early science fiction (or scientific romance). Such countries supposedly form part of the normal Earth landscape although not located in a normal atlas. Later similar tales often took place on fictional planets.

Jonathan Swift's protagonist, Lemuel Gulliver, visited various strange places. Edgar Rice Burroughs placed adventures of Tarzan in areas in Africa that, at the time, remained mostly unknown to the West and to the East. Isolated islands with strange creatures and/or customs enjoyed great popularity in these authors' times. By the 19th century, When Western explorers had surveyed most of the Earth's surface, this option was lost to Western culture. Thereafter fictional utopian and dystopian societies tended to spring up on other planets or in space, whether in human colonies or in alien societies originating elsewhere. Fictional countries can also be used in stories set in a distant future, with other political borders than today.

Superhero and secret agent comics and some thrillers also use fictional countries on Earth as backdrops. Most of these countries exist only for a single story, a TV-series episode or an issue of a comic book. There are notable exceptions, such as Qumar and Equatorial Kundu in The West Wing, Marvel Comics Latveria and DC Comics Qurac and Bialya.

Utopia and Dystopia

Utopia (pronounced /juːˈtoʊpiə/) is a name for an ideal community or society possessing a perfect socio-politico-legal system. The word was invented by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean (probably derived from Plato's Republic, the original written Atlantis tale). The term has been used to describe both intentional communities that attempted to create an ideal society, and fictional societies portrayed in literature. A modern example of utopian fiction is the Uglies series by Scott Westerfield. It has spawned other concepts, most prominently dystopia.

A dystopia (from Ancient Greek: δυσ-: bad-, ill- and Ancient Greek: τόπος: place, landscape) (alternatively, cacotopia, or anti-utopia) is, in literature, an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Dystopian literature has underlying cautionary tones, warning society that if we continue to live how we do, this will be the consequence. An example of dystopian fiction is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

A dystopia is, thus, regarded as a sort of negative utopia and is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. Dystopias usually feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions and constant states of warfare or violence. Dystopias often explore the concept of technology going "too far" and how humans individually and en masse use technology. A dystopian society is also often characterized by mass poverty for most of its inhabitants and a large military-like police force.