One of my friends who recently read Project Sparkle told me the setting in my novel is a character. That's good! I'd been hoping it was. But then she told me it needed to be emphasized a lot more.
As a reader and writer, I've heard the phrase "setting as character" numerous times. I've probably used it before. But what exactly does it mean? And how could I emphasize my setting's character?
I started by figuring out what its character was in the first place. I went through my novel and copied all of my descriptions into a new document. I read through these descriptions in order, and then wrote a paragraph describing my setting overall. I included smells and sounds, what people would be doing, how many people would be around, the look of important buildings, homes and shops. I described what a person might see there, people's character, race, and age.
By working through this process, I realized my setting could be considered a character. But it needed some work.
1. My setting needed to be consistent.
Sometimes I emphasized bad parts of the setting, sometimes good, sometimes there were no emotions involved, it was just there. I needed to figure out the key descriptors of my setting, and emphasize those repeatedly, just like I might do with a tall character or a little red-haired girl.
2. I needed to introduce my setting.
My friend was right about emphasis. Especially in the beginning of the story, I hardly mentioned my setting. Just like a character, I needed to introduce my setting. I added several paragraphs, emphasizing important details and really immersing my character in the setting.
3. My setting needed an arc.
Actually, talk about a-ha moments, my setting HAD an arc, much like a character should. Since the story takes place in a period of weeks, the setting doesn't actually change. But my character's feelings about it and what she notices about it changes. I went through my text and emphasized those changes, making sure my descriptions reflected my character's emotional arc.
4. My setting needed to be intrinsic to the plot.
Just like a major character needs to be involved in the climax of a novel, my setting was instrumental to my climax. Depending on your views of pre-destination, cause and effect, and the power of place, my setting may or may not cause the climax. But it's certainly involved.
In the end, I discovered setting as character means exactly what it says. I arranged my setting much as I might any other character in my novel.
Does your writing use setting as character? How have you approached it? What are some of your favorite setting as character novels? I blogged about a few of mine earlier this summer, though I wasn't smart enough then to realize I was talking about setting as character--one of my commenters pointed it out!