Monday, May 24, 2010

Setting as Character

Just give this a listen while you read and think...(by the way, this is from the film A Love Song for Bobby Long, which I can't recommend enough.)

The novel that I am currently writing, which is tentatively titled Saving Me, has been heavily influenced by its setting, which is of course here in north-east Georgia, particularly the city of Clarkesville and its surrounding areas. Though the novel is a lot of things, I most describe it as being written in the tradition of Southern and Southern Gothic literature. Southern Literature was a particular interest of mine in college, and if I were ever to get a master's in English Lit, I would most likely concentrate in Southern Lit.

Something that's always stood out about Southern Literature is the consciousness of place/setting, whether the characters are living in the deep South during the novel's events, or if they are displaced (and displacement is often a theme: fish out of water, etc). Think on some of the classic Southern literature that you've read (Faulker, anyone?), and think about the setting. I'm willing to bet it stands out clear to you, huh?

I've been working on my novel for a year and a half; it started as a NaNoWriMo in 2008, and quickly developed into something seeded deep in my gut. I've blogged about it before, how it's almost like an entity inside me, compelling me to finish. I've been writing for a long, long time, but nothing I've ever written or worked on has enraptured me like this one.

A lot of it is the setting. The novel's events take place during the summer months, from early June through the beginning of August. Where I live, July and August are the hottest months of the year, with temperature often averaging in the triple digits with humidity well over 50%. If you've ever spent much time in this kind of weather, you know that it really has an effect on your mental well-being. Heat drives people to do things. How often have you heard or read a crime story in which a heat wave equals a crime wave?

My main character, Lily St. Martin, is having the worst time of her life, and it's also a record-setting hot summer.

The book would be completely different if it were set in, say, North Dakota in the fall. Or Vermont in spring.

Setting is everything, and the setting of your book should feel as alive to the reader as any of the characters. I haven't perfected this by any means, and it's something I'll definitely be paying attention to in edits/revisions.

How does setting influence your writing?


Anonymous said...

My WIP is set in Philadelphia, and that's the way I want it. In my opening chapter I described a restaurant, and one of guys in my crit group said, "I recognize this place! I've eaten here!"

Win, baby!

Yes. Setting is definitely important. I need to write places I know, to be able to bring them to life for my readers. Hence, Philadelphia.

Shannon Messenger said...

I agonize over setting--though part of that is because I write fantasy, so some of my settings are totally invented. But still, it's so key to pick just the right places. Great post!

Happy Monday!

Eric W. Trant said...

I was halfway into my opening chapter of my latest wip when I realized the story was good, but I didn't ~feel~ the setting.

I couldn't tell if my characters were hot or cold. Was there a breeze? How did it smell? Was it quiet or full of background noise?

So I scrapped the whole rig and started writing over. I re-read some of it this morning and I had a much deeper sense of the setting.

Setting as a character, so very true.

- Eric


I'm not an author but everything seems fine to me, I enjoyed your post,

Take care.

Tiana Smith said...

Setting is very important, and has such a huge role in the "feel" of the book. Almost all of my book ideas take place in a fantasy world. The one time I tried to write about a real place, well, the setting didn't work for me. Who knows what that says about my mental state :)

Shelley Sly said...

Sounds like there's so much rich background in Georgia. I've only been there briefly for a connecting flight, but I'd love to actually visit.

I'm finally making setting more important in my latest middle grade WIP. The main character is moving from one (Maryland) town to another, but the demographics of the first town are different from the second. I purposely chose to contrast my ethnically diverse neighborhood with a nearby town. It helps because I know all the local places, but the demographics are accurate and relevant to the plot.

Hannah said...

I usually create my own settings. I have needed to for most of ideas. It helps my WIPs. :)

When did you create the new layout? I like it a lot!!

Old Kitty said...

Gosh - setting is definitely important. Thanks for this song - it's lovely and I can feel the heat and the sensuality oozing out of the song. I love how you say that heat drives people to do things! How true!

My current WIP is set in a village in Herts. where the means of transport are the river and the trains. My story revolves around these places and gives the story a grounding. I think so anyway!

Great post and song! thanks for sharing.

Take care

Jemi Fraser said...

Interesting post.

I'm not always good at including my setting. It's one of those things I have to go back in and add. Your post has given me a couple of ideas - thanks :)

Anne Gallagher said...

I love setting and if it's done right it becomes its own character. I hear you on the deep south, and southern writing. It's compelling and I've never apprecitaed it much until I moved down here.

Lola Sharp said...

Setting is crucial in my mind, to any good novel.

I can't wait to read Saving Me.


Kimberly Franklin said...

Settings are important. They add to the feeling of the overall novel and characters for me. Also, love the new layout!!

sarahjayne smythe said...

Great post. Setting is crucial. I think that's part of my problem with my WIP. The setting isn't right.

Christine Danek said...

Setting is so crucial. My setting is in West Chester, Pa. as you know. ;) I'm still trying to get the feel for the reader though. I hope I can accomplish it.
I think it's helps the reader feel what the characters feel puts the reader right there with them.
BTW --can't wait to read more. :)

Unknown said...

You're so right, Summer. The setting in our stories affect our characters and even the tone. It's important to remember that as we write. My story is set in Chicago since I lived there for several years. I suppose it was a partial cop-out since it meant less research than if I would've picked a place I'm completely ignorant about. But I'm happy with my choice. :)