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?