I’ve said several times before that your goal as a writer is to make a world in which your readers will be pulled into. I’ve covered how writing styles and characters can do this, but one of (if not the biggest) tools to do this is through setting. This is how you get to create your world. You get to decide on the climate, the weather, the scenery–and you get to decide on how it will impact your characters and how they react to it.
Setting also shows details about your character in a way that nothing else can. For example, let’s say that Character X lives a two bedroom apartment. He’s converted the second bedroom into a home office. Now, let’s say that his office is covered in papers and books and receipts and half-filled coffee mugs strewn about on the floor and desk. His mess has spilled into the hallway and is converging on the kitchen table. The sink is full of dishes that he hasn’t gotten around to cleaning; the bathroom is just as bad. Stains are littered all over the carpet from coffee being knocked over by hasty elbows. What does this tell you about Character X? It tells you that he is a slob and that doesn’t care about anything other than his work (or maybe not even that if he doesn’t take the time or effort to organize and separate his projects).
Now, let’s say that Character X lives in the same two-bedroom apartment. His desk is clear; his papers are filed away in a filing cabinet. His current project is in a neat, paper-clipped stack in the center of his desk. His mug is exactly one foot away at a forty-five degree angle from the center of the desk. His pens are in one holder, pens in another. The kitchen is so clean, it shines. All of the dishes are put away. His room looks like a picture out of a home magazine; the bed is made, his clothes are put away. The bathroom is even cleaner than the kitchen. The grout is scrubbed and white. There isn’t even a smudge on the faucet handles, and the floor has been vacuumed so much, your foot sinks down an inch or two when you walk on it. How has your view of Character X changed? He’s no longer a slob, in fact, he’s now a neat-freak. He may even have OCD.
You get two completely different views of Character X before you are even introduced to him. This is the impact setting has on a reader’s understanding of a character. Setting can also be impacted by the character himself. It should be. How the character actually perceives the setting can tell the reader about the inner thoughts and feelings of a character. For example, let’s have the setting be in the middle of a park. Kids are playing on the playground, the sun is directly overhead, and a breeze is blowing. Now let’s see what happens:
Character X peered across the park. The sun was too bright; it hurt his eyes, and he didn’t have his sunglasses. He knew that as soon as he stepped into the UV rays, his skin was going to blister and peel like he was a vampire. The constant squeak of the swings was giving him a headache. The wind that kept blowing his hair into his eyes was so loaded with pollen, he sounded like a Pug trying to breathe. Coming to the park was a bad idea.
Character X lounged in the warmth of the sun. The breeze was just enough to keep the air cool and comfortable as he soaked up the Vitamin K. The happy cries of the children playing on the playground brought back fond childhood memories. He imagined sliding down the slide and running around, playing tag with his friends. He sat back, closed his eyes, and relished this perfect afternoon–coming to the park was a wonderful idea.
See how Character X’s perception of the setting told his mood? Just as it can help reveal a character’s mood, it can also lend itself to the overall tone of the scene. The rain pouring from the heavens, depending on how you describe the setting through your character or as the narrator, can give the tone of depression and lethargic movements (trekking from a campsite that has been flooded) or it can give the tone of hope and vivacity (a miraculous shower in the middle of the desert).
The setting can do so much for your writing–you just have to let it interact with your characters and your characters with it.
Thanks for reading!