1. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    The Setting as a Character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Killer300, May 1, 2011.

    Okay, I've heard of this concept, and one excellent example of this is Silent Hill in the Silent Hill games. This concept is the setting can become a character if described enough. I want to utilize the concept in a story called, "Gasmask," where the setting is our world with chemical weapons polluting the air so heavily that characters have to wear a gasmask everywhere outside.

    So, I was wondering, any tips for this? Something specific I should be going for to give the setting more personality? Or just plenty of good descriptions and imagery?
     
  2. Frankie_Kohort
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    Frankie_Kohort New Member

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    Re:

    One things would be to giving human characteristics and emotions to the features of the setting. I think the setting is always a character to the story...whether it's a more active character or not is what differs between stories.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Every location has unique characteristics. New York City is very different from San Francisco, and both are very different from Los Angeles. Get the feel of the location, and communicate that to the reader.

    If it's a fictional setting, of course, you'll have to manufacture the "feel" of the place. Frank Herbert's Dune series contains many such lively and unique locales, not least of which is the deep desert of Arrakis.
     
  4. Frankie_Kohort
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    Frankie_Kohort New Member

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    If the setting is of San Fran, L.A., N.Y.C. or whatever place...I feel it's imperative to have been to the place to bring it to life. I couldn't imagine trying to describe the difference between Hollywood and West Hollywood with out having lived there. That's why when I set any of my stories anywhere...I had to have been there for some duration of time.
     
  5. Chachi Bobinks
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    Chachi Bobinks Senior Member

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    That's a good question! I think a lot of people tend to skirt over details, which makes setting a non-character... doing the opposite should help. I'd also say it all depends on how you say it. For example...

    Emily made her way into the living room and slumped into her father's tattered recliner. Her arms folded over her chests tightly to stifle the goosebumps that threatened to take her over.

    vs.

    Emily made her way into the living room. It was a damp, dusky, frost-bitten room that breathed a chill into the air around her. Frost nipped at her ankles as she slumped into her father's tattered recliner and she folded her arms over her chest tightly to stave off the goosebumps that threatened to take her over.

    Okay, maybe that's not a good example, but that's how I envision the setting that becomes a character in and of itself.
     
  6. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Thanks. Usually I find myself focusing too much on the characters to the detriment of the setting, and perhaps other things at times, so this is quite helpful to me.
     
  7. Froggy
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    Froggy Member

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    This question made me wonder though - do you consider the physical environment the setting, or would social climate work as a setting too?

    Think of the movie dogville - basically no set, hardly any props, but I'd definitely talk about a setting. It's not a character per se, but it has character.

    Am I making any sense here?

    But unless your story is about man vs nature, I wouldn't qualify the setting as a character, because, to me, a character acts. It most definitely would have character though.

    Maybe I am just splitting hairs here...

    There's a book I read once 'die flut' by Wolfgang hohlbein - it is set somewhere in Germany and takes the characters across the country quite a bit. The one constant throughout the book is rain. Dreary gray atmosphere, mentioned or hinted at just often enough to keep the mood without being too obvious. I found that part ingenious, can't remember the story though...
    So I guess that'd be an example where setting made more impact than the storyline - not a good selling point IMO. Yet - I DO REMEMBER THAT BOOK over dozens of others.
    But then I am one of the suckers who watch movies on really bad television screens and don't even notice because I am so caught up in the story...
    I guess all I am saying setting is great, but it should support the story, not take over...
     
  8. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I studied this a fair bit in my first year at uni because we were doing Victorian literature and London is a very powerful character in many of the writers' work (particularly like, Dickens). I think it really is just making sure the setting has a use and symbolic meaning to the characters. So, some stories could be set anywhere, and it just so happens that the writer chose that place because they know the names of the shop on the high street. A LOT of amateur fantasy I read comes out this way too. People grab a generic middle earth clone off the pile, and just describe it in terms of forests and paths, and maybe there will be a lake. Even if they have a map it blurs in on itself and it serves about the same as having Google maps instead of living there yourself.

    I can only say: pick the setting carefully. Think about what the mood of the story is, and match it. You're the author so it's not like you're trying to shoot film in a crowded inner city and have to rely on the whims of the weather and thousands of people who get in your way to make things perfect. If a cloud comes over the sun, you can tell it to go away. If there aren't enough/too many homeless people on the street, you can pluck some up and put them where they're needed. Maybe you want to write a story where the character goes in a really bad neighbourhood in a city, but the location you chose (and you're trying to be true to a real place) would actually take a 20 minute drive from the setting to get to streets lined with hookers and drug dealers, but you just want the character to run a few seconds around a corner and see the ugly underside of the city. Change the city, if that is honestly the only pertinent geographical fact you need.

    Once you have the setting working for you, it's becoming a part of the story rather than a backdrop.

    My teenagey fantasy series was almost set in my hometown, which is kooky enough to contain all the pagan gods, witches and fairies and a good deal more. But it's large and very well-connected to places like London and Brighton, and what I really wanted was a sense of isolation from the world, so I made up a tiny village with all the characteristics of Hastings, with just a more personal history and one road out of town. If I'd written it in Hastings, there is no sense of boundary, so the characters would never have felt as trapped as they did. When I made up the new setting because I based it on Hastings in my mind I had all the characteristics of the place in my mind, plus new ones I wanted for the sake of the story, and so the interactions and descriptions of the place could feel a lot more genuine, and the setting worked with me, and I'm hoping that after reading a few books of this series, people will feel the village itself has power as a character.
     
  9. Ice Queen
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    Ice Queen Senior Member

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    A good example of the Setting becoming a character is Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native- it's set in a depressing Heathland, which is all wild nature and power. Characters like Tamsin and Diggory prosper because they are one with the land, they treat it with respect and they understand it, however poor Eustacia hated the heath and its social isolation- ironically making her even more socially isolated to the point where she eventually dies (or commits suicide?!?!) by drowning in the fast-flowing stream... :D

    A similar concept is used in Wuthering Heights...

    Hey, Melzaar- w00t for Victorian Literature? XD
     
  10. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Ah, thanks guys. This is going to very important in two stories I'm trying to write I think.
     
  11. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    *high fives* I like your literary references. :D I'm feeling too brain dead from all the essay writing to come up with any so thanks. I actually wrote an essay about this on Wuthering Heights, but the thought of repeating it made me dizzy. :p

    Oh, something I failed to say but meant to was the emphasis on re-using settings. Obviously examining London or Paris as a character in a particular period of literature is easy because so many authors use it. But take, say... bleh, no, no more rugged moors... Umm.. Hogwarts! Hogwarts is an awesome setting character. It grows over 7 books, and always has some new secret or trick up its sleeve. Because the characters spend 75-90% of their time in it aside from the 7th book, the location is used over and over and over, so a familiarity grows with the reader, though they might never go there. I *dream* about the Hogwarts I imagined as a kid.

    You can't possibly expect a setting you use for 1-2 scenes in a novel to be a decent character. Like any they need development, and as they play a pretty passive role for the most part (no matter how awesome Hogwarts was, most of the time they were there they were just sitting in classrooms or the Great Hall, oblivious to it) they need a *lot* of it. In one novel, a single setting might act as the character. Wuthering Heights takes place entirely between the two houses and the moor they sit on. I've read some great books about sea journeys where the ship takes on as much character as anyone else because the same small cast is stuck on the ship for most of the novel except for the expected adventures. To ignore my reading, think of how you grow familiar with The Black Pearl when watching Pirates of the Caribbean. :p

    So don't try and develop every setting this way - go for a general mood or themed atmosphere or something. If the character is rushing through many locations, there is no way to make a setting they visit for ten pages as powerful a character as Hogwarts. And if you are going to have one setting as a powerful force in the novel, don't water it down with too many others.
     

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