Friday, June 3, 2011

Repost: Setting as Character

I'm away from the blog this week, so hope you'll enjoy this older post on how to make your setting as vivid and important as any character.

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!

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