Choosing the right setting is just as important as choosing the right characters, plot, and dialogue. Setting grounds your readers, helping them to experience the action and drama more effectively. But it does so much more than that! A setting can be so vibrant and alive that it becomes one of the characters in your story, assisting or hindering your protagonist in achieving his/her goals.
A beach at sunset or a hike to a tranquil waterfall can provide nearly as much comfort and encouragement as any good friend. If your hero has just defeated a dragon, don’t send him to a lively night club or a bull fight. Turn his setting into a place where he can recuperate and reflect, where he can hear the voice of God in the breeze.
Setting can also aid the hero in his quest. A jungle or a crowded bus station can hide the hero from his enemies just as easily as quicksand can devour them.
Just like a villain, the proper setting can introduce conflict, cause trouble, or thwart the hero’s plans. Consider a vicious storm, a flood, a moonless night that blinds the hero, a jungle where he gets lost, bumper-to-bumper traffic that keeps him gridlocked, an earthquake, rock slide, etc. These settings take on a life of their own, and do everything in their power to keep your hero from succeeding. You’ve heard it said that if your scene is falling flat, have someone pull out a gun. I say transport your scene to a setting filled with conflict.
Like a wise old sage, setting can also be a mentor. Perhaps your hero must learn something before he can move on. Have him wander into a library, an old book store, a cave with ancient, mysterious writings on the walls, an archeological dig, a museum. Or perhaps your hero must survive some ordeal in order to move forward such as climb a mountain or cross a river to overcome his fears and gain the confidence he needs to achieve his goals.
A shadow is anything or anyone that reflects your hero’s deepest flaws. If your hero has an alcohol problem, put him in a bar where he can watch what alcohol does to others. If he’s a control freak, put him in prison. If he’s selfish, put him in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. If he’s greedy, place him at the New York Stock Exchange. Use the appropriate setting to open his eyes to his own flaws.
A church, a mission trip, a charitable foundation, free medical clinic, the palace of a wise king, the courtroom of a just judge, and a loving home are all settings that can provide an atmosphere that fosters qualities to which the hero aspires.
How about using setting as a shapeshifter, a joker, a symbol of the hero’s past, a guardian? Choosing setting as a character is only limited by your imagination!
As an example: Let’s say you’re writing a breakup scene between two of your characters. Now, imagine the difference if that scene were set: at home in the living room, in a crowded restaurant, on a ship out at sea, on a ski slope, a shooting range, a fencing match. Each setting becomes a third character that determines how the scene will play out.
Setting can be a dynamic, breathing character that can either assist or hinder your hero. So, choose wisely, and you’ll add an entirely new dimension to your story.
Can you think of any favorite scenes in books you’ve read where setting is an important character? What about your own writing—how have you incorporated setting this way?
A Christy Award finalist, MaryLu Tyndall dreamt of tall ships and swashbuckling pirates during her childhood years on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. She holds a degree in Math and worked as a software engineer for fifteen years before testing the waters as a writer. Now, while writing her eleventh novel, she manages a home, husband, and six kids while battling three cats who have decided that her keyboard is the best place to sleep.[ Next Post → ] [ ← Previous Post ]