A story is not a story without a place and time. Setting can make the story. It can be another character on the page. Hogwarts and 4 Privet Drive live and breathe as much as the characters. The pristine Capitol coldly greets the innocent Katniss and Peeta. Whether a mysterious island (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Lord of the Flies, Island of the Blue Dolphins), a stark dystopian future or past (The Giver, Divergent series) or a lush outdoors (Bridge to Terrabithia, Call of the WIld), your story's setting is as important as your characters.
How do you make it real?
First, you must find a setting that matches your plot and character.
Second, you must select a specific time period (present, past, future to start with), a place (real or imagined) and a duration (passing of time from page 1 to the end).
Last, you must treat your setting - as stated previously - like a living, breathing character.
Back to No. 1 - Match the setting to the plot or main character.
Consider Katniss. Cold, focussed, determined. Her character gains a warmth by the end of the story. In the beginning, she is home amidst poverty and oppression. She passes through the Capitol and glimpses of what could be. During the Games, the landscape continuously changes, as does Katniss who reveals her feelings for Peeta. In the end, she returns home and we see she is caught between her feelings of what was to what could be.
Take your main character's arc. Record his/her traits. How do you want this character to transform? Consider whether a lush and vibrant setting is best, or if an industrial landscape will reveal more of the plot and internal conflicts. (Homework: watch the cult film Pleasantville.)
No. 2 - Select a time period.
This may be obvious if you've all ready planned a sci-fi, dystopian or historical novel. However, you may still need to consider how far into the past or future you want to be.
Setting your story in the historical past requires a commitment to research. Do not be lazy with this if you choose to write a tale in Victorian England; you might accidentally write that your poor character "turns on the light switch".
Setting your story in the near distant future - say, 2085 - with America in complete poverty or Venezuela as the new world superpower might be a little unbelievable. However, opening your story with these same scenarios in 2185, might not be as hard to believe.
Of course, if your story takes place in modern day, you can have as much fun as you want because it's fiction. If you choose a modern day setting but make clear it's in a parallel world (2015, New York City with Jim Carrey as mayor), the world is yours!
(Homework: watch the film Bladerunner.)
No. 3 - Personify your setting.
If you've dabbled in step 1 (matching your setting to your character), this won't be too tricky. Not too...
Let's try this exercise. Take out your drawing pad and pencil. Sketch a place that looks like:
1. an awkward, shy, teenager
2. an angry football captain
3. a smart but clumsy office worker
Now, go the other way. Sketch a character that looks like:
1. a neglected city
2. a lush country meadow
3. a snowy mountain village
In my second novel, Birds on a Wire, the teens spend a lot of time at the Orange Shack, a hole-in-the-wall taco stand next to a wire-fence enclosed orange tree orchard. Both places personify something about the characters. In the end, the orchard can't remain as it always was, and neither can the characters. Something must be destroyed.
(Homework: read Hansel and Gretel or Snow White.)
Share your thoughts below on how you make your setting real.
We'll have more fun with setting next week.
Until then, write on!