When done well, the setting your story takes place in can become its own character. This helps add another layer to your story, and makes it feel more real to the reader. Think the Overlook Hotel from The Shining or the city of Tokyo in the movie Lost In Translation.
A normal setting is just where the story takes place. Making it a character, though, means the setting becomes a crucial aspect of the story. For instance, you can have a crime thriller set in any random city, or you could set it in a dingy, dark city where the reader feels like it’s the only city the story could possibly take place in. Think about the unforgiving city in The Crow or Gotham City from any Batman story. These places are just as much a character as any person. Now, we’re going to give you some tips on how to turn your story setting into its own character. Let’s get into it.
1. Link Details And Emotions
Is there a special place that made you happy when you were a kid? Or even somewhere now as an adult? The kind of places you think fondly of and bring about specific emotions. Now, think about some of the details of those places that cause you to feel this way. That’s the kind of stuff you need to add to your stories to create realistic feelings for the readers.
This can also work if you’re trying to think of stuff to describe a bad neighborhood or the wrong part of town. Not all settings in your real life caused happy memories. But they can be just as effective in your writing as the happy places. Maybe you had traumatic memories of a “haunted” house or “creepy” basement as a kid. What made these places scary to you? Use those details to create a realistic setting in your story. A good example of a scary setting being a character would be the cabin from the movie Evil Dead.
2. Measure Change Over Time
For the most part, the setting itself really doesn’t change, but the people there do. Granted, that can also differ depending on the counter story you’re telling. If the town your main character grew up in is now being modified to something different from what it was before, it can cause the character to feel many different things.
It’s important to show how a setting changes with the story over time. It could be something like a wholesome small town slowly becoming more insidious as an evil presence takes over. Or it could be the opposite, like a rundown family house getting rebuilt as the protagonist grows as a person. You can show human changes through setting. This can really add another layer to your story and can be an effective writing tool.
3. Make A Setting’s History Personal
Figure out all of the different kinds of details for the setting you might need to tell the story properly. If your story takes place in the past or gives a history of a certain place, you’ll probably want more setting details. If the story is modern, you might be able to get away with simply telling the story with basic setting details.
You also need to think about the way your character views the setting and how its details make them feel about the location. Does your setting make them nostalgic? Does it bring up bad memories? Does it make them want to forget? Think about the novel (or movie) IT. The fictional town of Derry Maine is very much a character in the story. Its presence is felt throughout the story and the characters harbor specific feelings about the place.
4. See Through The Character’s Eyes
It can be powerful having the time and or place be the focus of a character or characters. Try having multiple characters holding different views on your setting and how each one of them feels about it. This can bring about great conflict which will make the setting feel more important and help it become a crucial element to the story.
Maybe you have a pair of brothers who have wildly different views on their childhood home. Perhaps the older brother has bad memories and worse feelings for the place, but the younger brother has the opposite views. This could lead to the older brother conflicting with the younger brother over their childhood experiences and makes the setting steer the course of the story. A great example of this would be the movie Radio Flyer where you had kids dealing with childhood trauma in very different ways.
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