Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Setting as Character



Have you ever read or heard that a writer should consider setting to be a character in a
Photo by Hotblack, Morguefile.com
story? Have you ever read a story in which the setting came alive? Or, the details, moods, and symbolism of a story brought it to life? I have. And I must say, the right setting details can make an almost magical difference to a story.

Think about a story with a vivid setting. I bet it evoked emotions in you as reader. I bet it added to the characterizations in the story. And, I bet that setting changed and developed ever so subtley. Maybe it even included specifics that set the mood and the tone of the scenes. Perhaps the setting even took on a life of its own. Didn’t this use of setting enhance the story? I am guessing that it did.

All of this started churning around in my head as I started reading a novel in which the setting is, so far, a character. The night air breathes, the floors moan and whisper under the weight of someone’s steps, the moon hides behind clouds and peeks out every so often. Goosebumps, anyone? At this point, the setting is a creepy sort of character setting me up for something scary. And I can’t wait to read more.

Enough about what I think. What do you think about setting?


* NOTE: Some of you may have noticed that I skipped blogging in August. Many apologies! I hit a bit of a health snag in my road to recovery. As a result, my writing and blogging schedule felt the hit. Thank you for visiting again, my bloggy buddies! I am on my way to visit you, again, too. : ) 

45 comments:

  1. I'm sorry to hear about the bump in your road to recovery. I hope the fact that you're back means you are well =)
    The setting in my current WIP is very important. I like how you speak of it here, as a character. I really need to think of it in these terms.
    I have read books where the setting comes alive. I am re-reading one right now and studying how it sets the whole mood for the story.

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    1. Thank you, Ruth.
      I love that you wrote how you are "studying" how another book deals with setting--and how it comes alive, sets the mood, etc.

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  2. So glad to see a blog from you lovely Cynthia! But you must get better first before anything else!! Yay!!

    Setting is definitely important - adds so much depth and substance to the story - frames it too - gives it physical shape!! Take care
    x

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    1. Aww, thanks, Old Kitty!
      Great point about how setting frames a story, and gives it shape!

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  3. Absolutely setting can be a character. Think of Oz and Middle Earth.

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  4. In almost every fantasy novel I've read, setting is a character of the book. Great world building almost always includes setting too. A conflict-heavy setting adds great suspense to any story!

    Great post!

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    1. Thank you, Emily! And thank you, too, for those great points.

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  5. Welcome back Cynthia :)

    I love a good setting and I always know it's good when I wish I could visit in real life. Like Emily it mostly happens in fantasy novels.

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    1. "I wish I could visit in real life" is a great way to determine if a setting works. Maybe, too, setting works if readers don't want to visit--if it is too scary, for example. : )

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  6. Be it setting or something else, when the writing is really good, you don't notice the technical details, you just know you love what you read. I mean, that's the sign of a truly talented author, isn't it? -Writing so well that even authors don't pay attention to the writing.

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  7. Nice to hear from you, hope the fact that you're blogging is a sign of good things! Setting as character is one of those things that, for me, if I think about too much, I screw up. I suppose pretty much all writing is like that for me!

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    1. I think all or most writing is like that for most of us, JeffO. I try not to think too much during the first draft stage, but I do much more analyzing during revisions.

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  8. I definitely use setting as a character in my books. Maybe because it's equally important in my own life.

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    1. A great example of an author learning from real-life experiences, Jenn!

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  9. I also use setting as a character. I'm getting good at it...I think...lol!

    I've been thinking about you. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers, hoping you are feeling better.

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    1. Thank you for those thoughts and prayers, Loree!
      And I am happy to read that you are getting good at using setting as a character. It can be easier said than done, I think. : )

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  10. I don't know if I consider setting a character. Maybe if it can in some way be said to have an arc...

    But I love settings that feel real, are specific, have emotional power, and are personified.

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  11. You bring up an interesting point about the arc, Marcia. In general, I think setting is considered a minor character when discussed in this way. However, now I want to revisit some stories where setting does change as the story moves along. Thank you!

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  12. I think if the writing is good, you don't notice setting, though now you have mentioned it, I'm thinking of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and I have to say the setting was perhaps a character...

    So well done. :-)

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  13. Great example! I agree that setting could be character in The Graveyard Book. Thanks, Maria.

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  14. It is the setting that sometimes pulls me into a story the most. Setting is extremely important to me when I'm writing. Thanks, Cynthia!

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  15. I love Maria's example of the Graveyard Book - Gaiman does an awesome job there. I'm not great at creating an active setting yet but I love when I read them. I'll keep working on it! :)

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  16. Oops - hit enter too soon! Hope you're back on that recovery path and things are going well. Take care!!

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    1. Thanks, Jemi! I loved Maria's example, too. The Graveyard Book is a great example. And I'm with you--always working on creating a better, active setting. : )

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  17. Hi, Cynthia,
    I hope you are doing well.

    I definitely like when the setting is a character. I write my stories giving the setting its place as a character. When I think about it though, I don't do that so much with my MG novels.

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    1. Interesting, J.L. Especially that you don't think you incorporate setting as character as much in your MG novels.

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  18. I love when the setting is a character. I want to dive into a vivid world.

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  19. I love an interesting setting. It really does make a good story great when the setting is treated with as much careful attention as the characters.

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  20. I hope you're doing better, Cynthia. A lot of people weren't blogging in August, so you didn't miss much. Your health is more important.

    I love when setting is character. I'm just not as good at writing it that way.

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    1. Thank you, Stina! You make me feel less guilty about skipping August.

      I love setting as character, too, but it is tricky to write.

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  21. Sorry to hear of your health snag, but I'm sure you needed a bloggy break. I do love it when settings are very real--not when they go on and on in lush/detailed description, but when they add flavor seemingly w/o trying.

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    1. You make a great point, Carol: Too much detail and description can overwhelm a story. As you wrote, it's better to "add flavor."

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  22. I love the way you painted this post.

    I tend to write spare, just giving bits of setting. Then I fill in the details later. I always strive to create a rich landscape, but i don't know if I've achieved it.

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  23. Oh absolutely. I love that kind of atmosphere. The stories where the setting is one of the characters is one of my favorite types of story. I love those creaky old mansions and cloud-covered nights. I'm a sucker for gothic.

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  24. I hope you are feeling better and sorry you weren't feeling well!

    I do love when the setting is a character. It really helps to make the writing come to life for me! :)

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  25. Setting definitely adds a whole layer of meaning to a scene. I do love books with settings that appear almost as another person in the room whose presence is silent, yet palpable. :)
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  26. I am a big fan of Setting as Character. I never used to understand what that meant before, but as I've grown I understand how layered and complex Setting really is, and how we can show so much through it! Symbolism and mood allows us to turn it into something alive and breathing. :)

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  27. Sorry to hear about your detour and hope you're now rolling in the right direction. I love books where setting is done well. You're correct in that it takes a simple story to another level.

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  28. Thank you for the wonderful comments. It's always interesting to read everyone's thoughtful point of view.

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  29. [flashed the Spok sign: live long and prosper]

    Greetings, earthling! Can't stay long, done gotta git, Paw ...yet, if I'm a sower, we plant the Seed; if I'm an artist, we write the Word:

    I actually saw Seventh-Heaven when we died: you couldn't GET any moe curly, extravagantly-surplus-lush Upstairs when my beautifull, brilliant, bombastic girl passed-away at 17 (<--God calls U.S. home regardless).

    "Those who are wise will shine as brightly as the expanse of the Heavens, and those who have instructed many in uprightousness, as bright as stars for all eternity"
    -Daniel 12:3

    Here's what the prolific, exquisite GODy sed: 'the more you shall honor Me, the more I shall bless you'
    -the Infant Jesus of Prague.

    Go git'm, girl. You're incredible.
    See you Upstairs...
    I won't be joining'm in da nasty Abyss where Isis lies
    thesuperseedoftime.blogspot.com

    -YOUTHwitheTRUTH

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