Writing Setting as Character: Paint a Storm

Ever read a novel review where the reviewer praises the writer for creating setting as a character? As you draft your novel, you’re busy with story and character development. But what about that setting?
Writing Tip for Today: Developing your novel’s setting so that it functions as a character unto itself takes a bit more than just the most obvious metaphor. You can “paint” scenes so that your setting has a more prominent role than mere scenery. Here are three ways to use setting as a character:

  •  Paint a Setting with Emotion. Heighten the mood of a scene by using the setting or backdrop. If your character is in a stormy landscape and also in a stormy or conflicted mood, the setting underscores and heightens the scene’s tension. However,wield a light touch with these scenic touches. The reader wants a suggestion, not a blow to the head.
  • Paint a Setting to Reflect Metaphor. The same idea about subtlety here. If you paint a stormy seashore and your character is metaphorically “tossed about” by life. always go for understatement. Readers prefer to discover, not be told.
  • Paint a Setting that Functions as Obstacle. Even if your story is about a city dweller, you can still use the setting as an obstacle. A jail cell, a hot city day, torrential rains or a hurricane barreling toward your character can serve to bump a well-worn plot into an exciting complication for your character. In fiction, setting is malleable in your writer’s hands. For the real-life characters who live in Hurricane Sandy’s path, stay safe and my thoughts and prayers are with you.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

4 comments on “Writing Setting as Character: Paint a Storm

  1. Great post! In my not-quite-published novel, On the Pineapple Express, a storm became the second antagonist. I found that, even as a Meteorologist, I needed either to experience the storm, or get a detailed description from someone who had experienced it, to use it in my story. Research helped, but without some first-hand knowledge, I don’t think I could have effectively written the storm into the story. What I’m trying to say is that if setting becomes character, we need not to just know about it, but to know it intimately.

    • Harry,
      Great reminder! It is not enough to paint your setting with Wikipedia knowledge (although you can find great stuff online!). It truly makes a difference if you are familiar with a landscape. Keep writing! ~Linda

    • Mark, I agree that a traveler who’s spent time in a locale has a great advantage oover the writer who looks up some generic facts but has never actually been there. Thanks for reading my Tips blog and keep writing! ~Linda

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