Top FIVE settings as a character

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© Rudy Dees

Rudy Dees

Writer @ GoneWithTheWord

In great fiction, the setting is alive. These places not only feel extremely real, these places are dynamic. Evolve. And affect the characters in the story—such settings become actors.

Donald Maass has said, “Powerfully portrayed settings seem to have a life of their own, but how is that effect achieved?”

Writer’s Digest suggests these techniques:

  • Line details and emotions
  • Measure change over time
  • Realize that history is personal
  • See through characters’ eyes

As a child, and even to this day, my special place is a stone house on Pico Island in the Azores archipelago. The views from our home include the majestic volcanic cone, the surrounding Atlantic Ocean, etc. All of these illicit emotions of peace, calmness and tranquillity for me and my family.

Throughout my own history I have seen changes that include the installation of the town’s first telephone, a bathroom to replace the outhouse, and changes to decor and furniture. In 1998 I experienced an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richtor Scale resulting in nine deaths, tumbled houses and fissures in the ground. Based on the above criteria… YES. The stone house is alive, hosting my family for generations.

“In other words, it is the combination of setting details and the emotions attached to them that, together, make a place a living thing. Setting comes alive partly in its details and partly in the way that the story’s characters experience it.”

These are my TOP FIVE fictional places that have made setting a character:

  1. Downtown Abbey
  2. Amityville Horror
  3. Star Wars—Death Star
  4. Pirates of the Caribbean series—Black Pearl
  5. Harry Potter—Hogwarts Castle

Downtown Abbey. The television drama and the show’s title tell you the series about the house itself. The changing times and the characters affect the abbey’s future.

Amityville Horror. A lot of mystic and mystery surround the events that took place at 112 Ocean Avenue.

Star Wars. The Death Star is a predominant character in the franchise. From Battle Plans in its inception, to its creation, its destruction, and its recreation and destruction, this Battle Station affected all the characters—light or dark.

Pirates of the Caribbean. The Black Pearl is Captain Jack Sparrow’s pride and joy, or is it Captain Hector Barbossa, or maybe Captain Davy Jones. The Black Pearl has changed hands many times over this series and remains a main character in Disney’s upcoming film. Captain Sparrow even speaks to his beloved ship (I mean Pearl).

Harry Potter. Hogwarts Castle is literally alive with moving staircases as a result of all the magic that occurs on premises (from learning students, magical artefacts therein and the enchantments cast over the building itself).

What does the setting of your current novel mean to the characters in it? These techniques are some of the most powerful tools in a writer’s kit. Utilize them and give your novel a setting that lives.

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