Sunday, June 17, 2007

Setting as Character

~ Lynette Rees ~

Have you ever considered how the setting you choose for your novel or short story becomes one of its characters?

Think of the home where the character, Norman Bates lives, in the 1960 film, Psycho. The dark, brooding house very soon takes on a life of its own with its creaking doors and dark passage ways.

Or how the setting for the 1945 film, Brief Encounter, filmed in a real railway station during the days of the steam train, transmits a certain something, that was evocative of that era in both tone and ambiance.

In the case of the first film, who could forget that infamous shower scene?

Or how in Brief Encounter, the couple who are having an affair, rush breathlessly for their prospective trains, whilst their shadows are reflected on the walls behind them showing their embrace?

Taking my own books as examples, in IT HAPPENED ONE SUMMER, the castle where Matt and Sandy spend the night, Castell Mynydd, reflects a romantic tone, which falls into line with how both feel about one another.

In the follow up book, RETURN TO WINTER, the wine cellar at the same castle takes on an eerie, sinister feel as Stephanie is trapped down there in the dark. Even the odd cobweb frightens her to death during her temporary blindness!

Allow the setting you use to reflect the tone and mood of the situation. For example, in the case of a horror story, you are not going to want to show the forest as a beautiful, serene place, rather as somewhere sinister where anything might happen. This will be reflected in the shadow and sounds, e.g. the sound of an owl hooting, a twig breaking, the moon shining through the rustling leaves of the trees. The same forest might appear innocuous in daylight and may provide the backdrop for a romantic walk in summer.

Next time you write a story, think how the setting can reflect its tone and mood. If your story is a romance, what smells can you induce, for example, or how can you best describe your setting in the way a lover might do? If it’s a horror story, what could you use that could take on a life of its own? A house? A mountain? The river?

If you have difficulty imagining how you can do this, watch a few films in your chosen genre. How has the writer/director chosen to film the shots? What tools has he or she chosen? Did they use the weather in some way to predict the mood of the characters? [Prophetic fallacy.]

You are the writer, director and producer of your own stories. Think like a collective production team and use your chosen setting as one of your characters. I promise, it works.

Lynette Rees has two books out with The Wild Rose Press this year:
It Happened One Summer and Return to Winter


Allie Boniface said...

Great post! And it's a good reminder for writers to remember all 5 senses when developing the setting. Too often, it's easy to fall into describing what the characters SEE...but as you point out, sound and smell can be powerful tools as well.

Lynette said...

Thanks, Allie. I think too often writers forget to use all the senses. Using them can really bring a piece of work to life.