In The Outsiders, the setting, order of events, point of view, and characters affect the plot by providing details about the tensions between the Socs and the greasers and advancing various plot elements that bring the story to its ultimate climax. Since Ponyboy is the narrator, essentially telling his own story, the point of view is Ponyboy's. He attempts to understand events, sees fighting between the two groups, and experiences heightening emotions, all of which inform the reader's understanding of the story.
We learn early on that Ponyboy and his group live in an uncertain setting where violence can erupt unexpectedly, often without immediate provocation. This is an extremely important bit of context for the story. Ponyboy says he is "a greaser." Describing greasers, he says,
We're poorer than the Socs and the middle class. I reckon we're wilder, too. Not like the Socs, who jump greasers and wreck houses and throw beer blasts for kicks ... Greasers are almost like hoods; we steal things and drive old souped-up cars and hold up gas stations and have a gang fight once in a while. I don't mean I do things like that …. I'm not saying that either Socs or greasers are better; that's just the way things are.
He then discusses the risk of getting "jumped" by Socs, which informs the reader almost from the very start about the physical dangers that Ponyboy and his friends face.
Despite Ponyboy's desire to appear "tough" like Paul Newman, Ponyboy is sensitive and a loner. This colors much of the narrative as the story unfolds. Since Ponyboy describes getting jumped by Socs in the first chapter, we get an early view that the violence goes beyond fist fighting and often includes knives. This informs the tone for the rest of the book and also leads to the events that unfold.
It also enables the reader to compare and contrast Johnny's story and Ponyboy's. Although the two boys live in the same setting and face similar risks, their outcomes differ markedly, primarily because their family support networks are so different.
Ponyboy's rescue provides insight into what a tight-knit group the greasers are and how much his brothers look out for him. Ponyboy says greasers stick together, defend one another, and have tremendous loyalty to the group. Moreover, Ponyboy's relationship with his brothers is an important element that is shown in stark contrast to the family support—or lack of support—that many other greasers have, including Johnny. After Ponyboy is rescued, Soda says,
Leave my kid brother alone, you hear? It ain't his fault he likes to go to the movies, and it ain't his fault the Socs like to jump us, and if he had been carrying a blade it would have been a good excuse to cut him to ribbons.
This foreshadows events that occur later in the book when Johnny kills a member of the Socs during a fight. This event leads to Johnny and Ponyboy hiding out in the church while they try to figure out what their next steps should be. The church scene is extremely important because it brings emotional context to the story and also enables Johnny to achieve redemption when he rescues the children from the fire.
Johnny's story forms a sharp contrast to Ponyboy's. Although the two boys are close to one another and each is sensitive in many ways, because of the support network that Ponyboy has in his two older brothers, Ponyboy somehow is encouraged to move forward and has direction in his life, unlike Johnny, who has no support from his family and ends up alone with Ponyboy and scared while he tries to figure out how he can move forward with his life.