Setting as a Character

Hey Lovelies!

I hope everyone is having a great week so far. I am currently suffering from insomnia and am writing this the night before it’s due about an hour and a half into the day. It is kinda really nice to be up this late and writing again. I haven’t done this since university. And now I’m rambling, which is probably why a lot of my professor’s hated my essays. XD

Any who, I know I promised you that I would talk about pathetic fallacy today, but I lied. I want to talk about setting some more. It is a dynamic part of writing a story and a lot of the time it is under utilized. Today our focus is going to be on introducing a new way of looking at your setting. I want us to look at it as a character.

Before we dive into that, I do want to restate what our definition of setting is.

Setting: the place or type of surroundings where something is positioned or where an event takes place.

I’m honestly going to be using a lot of NYC as examples today again.

A lot of the time, I find that certain authors will use a a city, like NYC, and give the place a personality or a feeling to it. They can make the city a character in and of itself. NYC is often described as restless, energetic, shady (in certain areas), trendy, etc. which is then reflected in the characters that the city holds. The city will mirror the characters emotions and it changes over time as the characters do.

That’s what a setting should do. It shouldn’t just be the place in which a story is set. It should be acting as a character or a motif or a metaphor. It should be doing more than just sitting there. Over the next little bit, we’ll be looking at some different literary techniques you can use to enhance your setting and make it more like a living character in your story.

J.K. Rowling does this a lot in Harry Potter, especially when he is at school. The staircases move of their own accord, the paintings are alive and talk, and the Room of Requirement shows up as it is needed. These are character points to her setting. The building has a mind of its own a lot of the time. It presents challenges and advantages to Harry and his quests.

That being said, here are some general tips on how to make your setting more character like:

  • Link details and emotions. Think of that favorite place, in real life, that you like to go to. It could be an old childhood summer place that you always went to or a new adult place that has some sort of significance for you. Describe this place and why you like it. Don’t look at what you’ve written down, but go over your favorite parts of that memory. You’ll notice that you enjoyed the setting of story more when there are details and emotions attached to it.
    • My example: During my last year of university, I spent a full year down in Lethbridge and over the summer spent a lot of my weekends in Waterton Lakes National Park, which is about a two hour drive from Lethbridge. I would get up early in the morning, drive out and pick a hiking trail. Most of the time I could be found at Red Rock Canyon trail and would hike up to Blakiston Falls and then go into the back country. I loved going there because there were enough people that if you wanted to go for a quick hike by yourself you could. I love waterfalls. On family trips out to my parent’s or grandparents cabins, we would make it into a game to spot wildlife and waterfalls. You needed the games because these road trips from Alberta into BC can be quite long. Our car rides were about 6-7 hours long. So, it was always a soothing activity on long car rides to play these types of games. However, being able to hear the water whooshing over the edge of a cliff and then feeling the rumble and the power of that water falling in your chest as you get closer and closer is a comforting thing for me. It reminds me that nature is powerful and beautiful and that it is going to endure as time passes. It also brings me back into the wonder of seeing water falling beside the car as we drove past it. It was a bit of excitement after seeing nothing but trees for close to an hour or more. Being able to go to Waterton and get away from some of the hassles and stresses of school and my job, was a blessing and especially nice when I get to be by the waterfalls in that area.

*Also my picture in the about page was actually taken at Blakiston Falls in Waterton Lakes National Park from that summer. I was a little up stream from the falls as there were quite a few people there that day, but the falls are close by and a lot of fun. Totally suggest that you go at some point and check them out if you’re ever visiting Alberta.

  • Measure change over time. A lot of the time we forget that things do change. Even in cities that you’ve lived in for years. However, there are small things that change when you pass from season to season, for example. You can contrast this to your characters in the story and make something pleasant not jibe with what’s going on with your characters.
  • History is personal. Everybody will see these things differently, so do keep that in mind. However, every time period, if you so wish to call them, has a certain feel to them. That includes the present state of things. The seventies is characterized as being about free love, drugs, peace and war, the disco scene and revolutionary change. That’s just one person’s take on it. It’s going to be completely different description for someone else. So make sure you’re filtering your setting through your characters. They’re going to have firm views of what their world is like.
  • See through your character’s eyes. Don’t be afraid of using multiple characters to express firm views of their time – plus they don’t need to have matching views. How your characters interact with the setting and think of it gives the setting more meaning and it helps you develop your characters and plot.

That’s it and all for today. I hope this helped and we will be talking about pathetic fallacy on Thursday.



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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


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