Friday, March 30, 2012

Tis a Writer's Life for me! - Setting as character

Last week's post we talked about using setting as conflict. This week we'll extend that a bit further to using setting as a character in your story. Yes.. a real character. Now you know we have all kind of characters in our books. There's the villain or antagonist, the protagonist or hero, the best friend, the wise mentor, the trouble maker, the person who shadows the hero's flaws, the person the hero wants to be like, etc...

So, how can setting become one of those characters? Easy. If you choose wisely, a setting can do the following:

Befriend the hero
Imagine your hero (or heroine) has just had the worst day of their lives. Perhaps he fought off a dragon or his wife left him. And now, it's time for reflection and rest. So where do you put him? In the middle of a lively night club? A bull fight? No. Choose a calm serene place where your hero can recuperate and think things through like a deserted beach at sunset or a hike on a nature trail where the waves and leaves caress the hero's feet and face and listen to all his problems.

Destroy the hero
We talked about this last week. How setting can introduce trouble and conflict to the hero or heroine. A vicious storm. A flood. A dark night that causes the hero to fall off a cliff!  A jungle in which the hero becomes hopelessly lost and unable to reach his goal. Bumper to bumper traffic that keeps the hero gridlocked. An earthquake, rock slide, title wave (cause I can't spell tsunami).  The setting takes on a life of its own and does everything it can to keep the hero from succeeding in his quest!  In fantasy books you can even have the trees come to life and try to strangle your hero. Cool stuff!

Mentor the hero
The setting can become something that teaches your hero. What about a library? An old cave with ancient writings scrawled over its walls.  A cliff that the hero must climb so he can gain the confidence he needs. A tall ship where the hero must climb to the tops to overcome his fear of heights!

Mimic the hero's flaws
Let's say your hero has an alcohol problem, set your scene in a bar where he can watch what alcohol does to others. If he's a control freak, put him in prison. (I did this to Captain Merrick in The Redemption)  If he's greedy, put him in a homeless shelter.

Reveal who the hero wants to be
This would be any place that expounds goodness and honor and kindness.. all of those qualities to which your hero aspires: a church, a mission trip, a charitable foundation, the court of a good king, a loving home.

Setting can be a dynamic, breathing character in your story that can either assist or hinder your hero. When you use it this way, your story will have a whole different dimension!


  1. Great post yet again. You really are a good teacher. I pray that aspiring writers benefit from your posts. :)

  2. Fri March 30th ....
    "Morning, MaryLu."
    Using 'setting as characters' ... never thought of it that way. Yes, wonderful points. Again, that is why your stories 'come to life' -- real, believable, and, we can identify with both the flaws and strengths of the characters.
    Thanks for sharing.
    By the way -- the picture you used under "Destroy the hero" ... of the tsunami: that picture evoked great fear in me (as my imagination ran ahead) !!! Look how "small" and serene the (enormous) hotel appears, in light of the HUMONGOUS tidal wave about to crush and destroy everything in its path !!!!!!! I couldn't even imagine !!! (Was that taken out of some movie ?)
    Have a great weekend.
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  3. Thanks Ladies! The picture of the tsunami I found on the internet... have no idea if it's from a movie or not. but it's pretty awesome, isn't it? Gave me chills too.

  4. That picture of the tsunami does seem like it is out of a movie, but I don't know which! :D I think that it is very cool when the setting is used as a character. It makes things seem even more real to me. This reminds me of the tornado in Surrender the Night, which is even more awesome because the tornado actually happened in real life!

  5. That tsunami is sooo scary!! Love the picture of the library, though : )
    Maybe this is what my attempts at writing have been missing... :D Thanks for posting!!