Giving Characters a Leg to Stand On
A smile formed on Callie face at the sight of Tom. It had been so long.
“Welcome by to the land of the living,” she said.
“It’s good to be back. What have you been doing in my absence? I hope you managed to keep out of trouble.”
“Of course, what do you think?”
Touching scene, except that it’s hard to follow in our mind’s eye because it’s not grounded. Callie and Tom are two characters floating in no particular time or space. We have trouble visualizing the interaction without supporting place.
Setting is as important as character, in fact, there are times when the setting is a character. Consider Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden. What would the story be without the image of the cottage on the cliff, or the unique house in Australia, or the attic room? And how about Jan Karon’s beloved Mitford Series? Setting is the canvas on which the characters move; it affects who they are and how they interact with one another, and sometimes it’s a life force in itself (think Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher).
Besides being a visual background for the story, setting can also provide direction and momentum for the plot. My Storm Series is set in South Russia at the time of World War I and the Russian Revolution. In this case, the setting is the essence of the plot. The characters act in accordance to what’s happening around them.
So setting is a grounding factor, a motivator, a character, an influence. It is also color.
Description can add depth to a story, as long as the depiction is woven in without distracting from the other elements. A novel must end up as a seamless whole.
I read a story recently—Assassin’s Trap—that left me in awe of the author’s skill at describing her settings. I could have sworn D.C. Shaftoe had visited every place she used in her remarkable story.
Here’s an article on setting from “Writer’s Digest” that may be of help to you with regard to setting: “THE HOW OF WHERE” — THE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING IN YOUR FICTION.
The next article in this series will deal with plot, so until then, let’s work on our settings.