The Elements of Fiction: Setting – Part 2

In the last post, I mentioned the various aspects that go into creating a story. One of them is the setting. As in, time period and location in which a story takes place.

Today, I’d like discuss another facet of setting: the season in which the story takes place.

For my first novel, the story occurs during Springtime in Georgia. Southern Springs can be volatile times, with thunderstorms and tornadoes mixed in with days that range from warm and humid to cool and breezy. For this particular story, storms play a big role in the action that takes place. So I set the story in April. It’s one of the stormiest months in Georgia.

The next story in this series will happen during the long, hot days of summer. And the final story in this trilogy will happen during the winter as the protagonist will face an ice storm, another common weather occurrence in northern Georgia.

Each of these seasons affects the story in specific ways. So it was important for me to get the timeline just right so that nature itself becomes a sort of “character” in the story.

What do I mean by that? When you place your main character (the protagonist, or the “hero” or “heroine”) into a story, he or she will face many things. I’ll discuss plotting and character “goals” in a later post, but for now, we know that this character will go through some sort of struggle, trial, adventure, or journey from the beginning of the story to the end. Along the way, he or she will interact with other characters in the story, whether they are secondary characters or the antagonist (also known as the “villain” or the person or thing who opposes the main character).

A writer can use setting as an additional “character,” meaning the setting itself has a bearing on the story and the characters in ways that alter the character or thwart his or her ability to reach the goal.

Think of a character being stranded on an isolated island. If his goal is to get off the island and return to his normal life, the island’s location itself will work against the character to keep him from getting home. The weather, the plant life or animal life on the island (or the lack of life on the island),the dangers lurking in the jungles – all of these can create obstacles and threats to the character.

I think of the actor and martial arts expert, Jackie Chan. In an interview, I heard him say that the way he comes up with his martial arts choreography for a movie scene is to just put himself on the set where the scene will take place. He looks around at the things the set designers have put there as set decoration. He picks things up, plays with them, moves them around, and comes up with ways he can use these things in a fight scene. And then he creates the fight choreography from that.

I think a writer does much the same thing, whether consciously or not. Each scene has a location, and that location has a “set design.” And you can use the set decorations of the setting to add life and flavor, conflict and obstacles for your characters.

When my main character, Samantha, finds herself on a farm in Georgia, she finds herself out of her element and in strange, unfamiliar surroundings since she grew up in Chicago. The readers get to see parts of her personality in the way she tries to adapt to her new surroundings. And even more than that, the farm is a reflection of her father, a man she never knew.

Through the farm, she learns about her father. It represents her internal struggle of forgiving him, and her internal struggle of finding herself. It is both a place of discomfort, raw emotion, and even danger to her, but also is a place of peace and healing.

Have you ever thought about how a setting can work either for or against the characters in a story? Think of a scene from your favorite story. What pieces of the setting did the author use to work for or against the characters? Share your thoughts in a comment.

 

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