16 April 2007

Setting as Character

Setting is a vital part of any story, but it’s one that many writers forget about. Plot, characterization, story arc – all vital story-telling elements, but nothing happens in a vacuum.

Setting isn’t just where things happen. It’s a character in and of itself. If you picked up your protagonists and put them in another location, it would be a completely different story. Setting isn’t just a place geographically. It’s a place, psychologically, socially, culturally.

Your characters can interact a certain way in LA that would be completely inappropriate in East Anglia. Where they are influences everything about them. Not just how they might dress for a certain event, but how they act, how they frame their words, how they think.

In addition, your setting creates a mood, a tone to which you must be faithful. A lone werewolf running loose in Prague at midnight creates a very different expectation for the reader than a lone werewolf who happens to be the mayor of a small town in South Carolina.

You can use setting to your advantage. Putting that LA vampire in Maycomb, Alabama can create useful conflict – comic or dramatic. What happens when your urban chic vamp ends up in the English countryside? In LA, there’s a ready food source out on the streets at all hours of the day or night. In an area populated by small villages, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to find a meal.

So as you write, don’t just plonk your characters somewhere that sounds interesting. Or in a blank space that adds no dimension. Use the setting you create to make your story the most dynamic it can be.
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