Showing posts with label setting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label setting. Show all posts

Thursday, April 17

Parts of Story: How Setting Can Help Bring Characters To Life



When writing a scene, how much description is enough?

All writers have certain things we do well--or at least, that we do better than others. Things that, relatively speaking, we excel at. I know someone who writes descriptions that make you feel like you're there; you taste the salt in the sea air and feel the early morning chill. But when this person writes dialogue, although it's good, it's not at the same level. And that's fine! Actually, it's reassuring. It wouldn't be, well, human, to be terrific at everything. (Which, I suppose, is an argument that Neil Gaiman is not quite human, but I digress.)

Descriptions aren't my best thing. There, I've said it. I'm talking specifically about the sort of description that needs to go at the beginning of scenes and stories to orient the reader; description that isn't intimately connected with the action of the story but needs to be mentioned. I can't tell you the number of first drafts I've finished where I had given no hint as to the protagonist's hair color, it's length, whether she was cute or handsome or beautiful. Or even a he or a she!

Why? Because it wasn't intimately connected with the action of the story. Or so I thought. Obviously, I under-describe. Readers like to know, for example, whether a character is male or female because they form assumptions, assumptions that may later be proved wrong and that can be disconcerting. 

So back to my question: When writing a scene, how much description is enough? 

I've spent some time mulling this question over and rereading many of the books I've listed in the recommended reading section. I think that, perhaps, in order to answer this question we need to recognize that:

1. A setting isn't just physical, it's also emotional.


In his book, The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass writes that we should select specific things about the characters environment and describe them in a way that shows the character's emotions. He writes that the combination of details about the setting and the emotions attached to them, "together, make a place a living thing. Setting comes alive partly in its details and partly in the way that the story's characters experience it. Either element alone is fine, but both working together deliver a sense of place without parallel."

Yes. Exactly. That's a great way of stating what we want to do. But (and this is the 64,000 dollar question), how do we do it? I hate it when writers state a question perfectly then quickly pronounce it a problem for the ages, shake their hoary heads, and move on.

Donald Maass doesn't do this. He answers the question and does so with examples. I won't reproduce them here, those were Donald Maass' examples, passages that spoke to him. I've written before about Stephen King, enough perhaps to give you the idea that I admire his writing, especially the way he could draw me into the worlds he created.[2] (I used to swear there had to be dark magic involved!)

But I think Donald Maass, here, has put his finger on another technique King uses, one which I hadn't noticed.[4] The following are the first few paragraphs from one of Stephen King's best books, The Shining (1977).
"Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.

"Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, and his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer. To the hired help it spoke more curtly: This had better be good, you. There was a red carnation in the lapel, perhaps so that no one on the street would mistake Stuart Ullman for the local undertaker.

"As he listened to Ullman speak, Jack admitted to himself that he probably could not have liked any man on that side of the desk--under the circumstances."[1]
Right away, I noticed three things about these paragraphs. First, King uses them to describe the characters not the room. We understand the characters, the circumstances, first. Then we get to the physical setting. 

a. Character first, setting second.


The first time I read the above paragraphs I don't think I realized I wasn't 'seeing' an office. I don't think I realized that Jack Torrance was there for a job interview. But that's okay. That information isn't important, not right away. What is important is that we understand the kind of man Jack is, what is important is that we understand how he reacts to Ullman as well as what sort of relationship they have to each other. And we get that (a start at least) from the opening paragraphs, all without knowing the color of each man's hair, if the walls are painted or wallpapered, what kind of desk Ullman has, and so on.

But look at the information we are given. In the first sentence we are told that the protagonist is Jack Torrence and, through that, we know he's (probably) male. We also have an idea of how old Jack is, an age range. A child probably wouldn't have thought 'officious.' That belies not just an adults vocabulary but, most likely, either an educated person or someone who reads a lot. 

Also, a child who thought "officious little prick" (depending on their temperament) might well have also said it. But Jack didn't. He's angry but controlling it. 

And, finally, that first sentence also gives us the point of view: third person, subjective.
"Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men."
From the second sentence (I'm only going to talk about the first two) we learn that Ullman is short and fat and that Jack thought he was prissy. It's interesting (interesting to me at least!) that while we're told how tall Ullman is, how he moves, that he's plump--quite a number of physical details--we aren't given any of this information about Jack Torrence, the protagonist. 

But that makes perfect sense, doesn't it? After all, we're seeing all this from Jack's perspective, from the narrators point-of-view which is firmly ensconced in Jack's mind. As a result everything Jack sees, everything the narrator tells us about the world, also tells us about Jack. And Jack--this character--couldn't care less about his hair color or how it's cut and styled. One feels Jack would label that as 'prissy,' something Ullman would be concerned about. 

It isn't until a few paragraphs later that we learn what we are watching is a job interview and that the characters are in Ullman's office:
"He slipped Jack’s application back into the file. The file went into a drawer. The desk top was now completely bare except for a blotter, a telephone, a Tensor lamp, and an in/out basket. Both sides of the in/out were empty, too.

"Ullman stood up and went to the file cabinet in the corner. 'Step around the desk, if you will, Mr. Torrance. We’ll look at the floor plans.' He brought back five large sheets and set them down on the glossy walnut plain of the desk. Jack stood by his shoulder, very much aware of the scent of Ullman’s cologne. All my men wear English Leather or they wear nothing at all came into his mind for no reason at all, and he had to clamp his tongue between his teeth to keep in a bray of laughter. Beyond the wall, faintly, came the sounds of the Overlook Hotel's kitchen, gearing down from lunch."
The second thing that jumps out at me is that ...

b. Intimate settings reflect the personality of the characters.


When Stephen King--or, rather, the narrator--describes Ullman's desk (see the passage, above), he is describing Ullman. He is describing items--the desk, the chair, the in/out basket--that Ullman has impressed his personality on. These setting details, therefore, are a reflection of Ullman's character, of who he is and how he wants the world to be. 

It is only in the last paragraph that we are given the information that these characters are at the Overlook Hotel and that it's just after lunch. By this time we know that Jack was enduring a job interview ("He slipped Jack's application back into the file"). But we are only interested in these things because, now, we are interested in these men--particularly Jack--and the peculiar tension between them.

c. Use the setting to introduce conflict.


King uses the setting--which largely consists of the two men, at least at the beginning--to inject a mammoth amount of conflict right from the first line: "Officious little prick." But, as I mentioned above, Jack's thoughts tell us more about him than about Mr. Ullman:
"Jack admitted to himself that he probably could not have liked any man on that side of the desk--under the circumstances."
What are the circumstances? King doesn't answer this question right away. He lets the information unfurl, naturally, like we're perched on Jack Torrance's shoulder, riding along with him on this most disagreeable of days, a voyeur learning about this character and his world; a world which just happens to be the world of the story.

And we're hooked!

Or at least I am. King gets me every time. After I read about three or four paragraphs I couldn't put the book down if I tried. And who's trying? 

2. Describe only those aspects of the setting that are relevant to the scene's purpose.


I've spent most of this chapter talking about Stephen King and what his work can show us about how and when to use description (he also has a wonderful discussion of this in his book, On Writing). I'd like to close with a more general point about keeping description focused.

As you know, each scene has a purpose: the protagonist wants to achieve some goal and they probably won't. Each scene must advance the overall plot and move the story closer to the final, inevitable, show down. 

- Who is the main character, the focal character, in the scene?[3] 
- What is the focal character's goal? 
- What must the focal character accomplish to attain that goal? 
- What opposing force prevents the focal character from attaining their goal? 
- How does the focal character react to the opposing force? 
- How does the focal character meet this opposition? 

Once you answer these questions you'll not only know the scene's purpose you'll know its overall structure.

But how does that help us describe the setting? Donald Maass suggests that to discover what aspects of the setting are important--to discover what aspects of the setting we must describe to readers--we must first find the turning points. To do this ask:

- What has changed?
- When does it change?
- How is the focal character affected by this change?

Make sure that setting has been described in enough detail, and with enough emotion, to ground each turning point. What has led up to these points, these changes?

Everything else--including details about the setting--should focus on these points. If a detail of setting doesn't contribute to any of the turning points in the scene then ask yourself: do you really need to include it? Perhaps it would be better placed in another scene. Or another novel. 

I hope some of what I've written, above, is of help in describing how much description is enough. In the final analysis I agree with Stephen King: It's all on the table. Use whatever you want, especially on the first draft. Experiment, try new things, let it fly! After you've set your manuscript aside for awhile and come back to it, and hopefully read it with fresh eyes, then it will be easier for you to see which parts work and which don't, as well as where you've described too much or too little.

(Note: This is a chapter from my upcoming book: Parts of Story. I've decided to blog the book because, that way, I'm more likely to stay on track. And it seems to be working (Yay!).)

Links/References


1. Notice that these paragraphs were written in third person and yet King seems to have achieved all the intimacy of first person. I've written a bit about how Stephen King might have achieved this--one of the techniques I think he makes use of--in this post: Free Indirect Discourse: How To Create A Window Into A Character's Soul.
2. Stephen King, since writing his enormously helpful book, On Writing, is well known for believing that stories exist external to, independently of, writers. He believes he discovers stories in much the same way an archaeologist discovers dinosaur bones.
3. Briefly, a viewpoint character is the character whose point of view the chapter is being told from. If the point of view is limited then this viewpoint character will be one of the characters in the story. The focal character is the character that all the fuss is about; they are the protagonist, the main actor. For example, in many of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, Holmes was the focal character while Watson was the viewpoint character. 
4. Stephen King also, and very powerfully, uses his character's emotion-laden thoughts to lay bare their souls and make us interested in them. Or at least that's what I think. I've written a bit about this in my article on Free Indirect Discourse (I've given the link, above, in note 1). See also: How Did Agatha Christie Hook Readers?
5. The remark about it all being on the table is from King's book, "On Writing." 

Monday, March 10

Two Ways To Introduce Setting Quickly And Effectively

Two Ways To Introduce Setting Quickly And Effectively




When I first started writing, I had no idea how important a well-developed setting was for enabling a reader to imagistically enter into a story and wrap it about them as one would a warm blanket. I knew the importance of characterization and 'hooking' characters into the setting, but not setting itself. I didn't yet view setting as almost a character in its own right.

For example, here's a passage from P.D. James's short, wonderful, book on the writing of detective fiction:

"[...] I was on a visit of exploration in East Anglia, standing on a deserted shingle beach. There were a few wooden boats drawn up on the beach, a couple of brown nets slung between poles and drying in the wind, and, looking out over the sullen and dangerous North Sea, I could imagine myself standing in the same place hundreds of years ago with the taste of salt on my lips and the constant hiss and withdrawing rattle of the tide." (Talking About Detective Fiction, P.D. James)

Wow. I'm there, I taste the salt, feel the wind, hear the ocean.

Of course I always had known, even if I was unable to articulate it, that the author's description of the setting was a large part of my reading experience, but knowing is one thing and being able to articulate exactly what it is about a piece of prose that causes a location to become so real to one's imagination it seems one is transported there ... well, it's difficult. I've become better at it lately, but it has not been easy.

Still from the first episode of Sherlock, season three: The Empty Hearse.
I wish I could be like Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch's interpretation) and instantly spot which elements of story contributed to my immersive reading experience. But, alas, in this I am often more like Watson.

I have a tendency to shortchange setting and go right to the action--perhaps because I'm worried readers won't find my description of setting terribly interesting and will move onto more engaging pursuits. Which is why I found Deborah Chester's recent blog post, Setting on the Run, so encouraging: she talks about two ways of introducing setting that won't bore the pants off readers.

Weaving Setting Into Narrative


To recap. The problem is that a storyteller must describe setting even though doing so will slow the pace; and slowing the pace isn't the best thing to do at the beginning of a story when we're trying to hook a reader's interest. 

Deborah Chester puts it this way: "Description is notoriously slow going. It basically puts the action on 'pause' while the author inserts whatever details of the locale are deemed important."

Here are DC's two solutions to this problem:

1. The Dominant Impression


DC writes:

"Now, I was trained to use dominant impression when describing a place or person. Dominant impression is simply selecting the primary detail or information that you most want the reader to absorb and focusing on that in a brief, vivid paragraph."

I looked around for an example of this and finally chose the following. It doesn't describe a physical characteristic, but it does describe an aspect of character:

"I don't call people for help. It's not because of the way I was raised, at least I don't think so; it's the way I was made. Johanna once said that if I was drowning at Dark Score Lake, where we have a summer home, I would die silently fifty feet out from the public beach rather than yell for help. It's not a question of love or affection. I can give those and I can take them. I feel pain like anyone else. I need to touch and be touched. But if someone asks me, 'Are you all right?' I can't answer no. I can't say help me." (Bag of Bones, Stephen King)

2. Deborah Chester's Method


DC says the following is effective in fantasy, but I think it generalizes to other genres.

a. Tell "readers where they are--for example Dickensian London or the fire pits of Ustan."


b. Plunge "the viewpoint character into immediate trouble–either in scene action, conflict, or peril" and present "the dialogue and character reactions true to their particular locale."


Why this works:

"The reader, reading quickly to stay with the story action, has to keep up, orient himself to the locale, and envision the kind of place where characters would speak and behave in this particular manner." DC comments that this method of introducing setting is "quick, engaging, and anything but boring. Avoid the temptation to explain and embroider. Give it a try, and see how it works for you.

DC recommends "The Anubis Gates" by Tim Powers as a book with examples of this technique.

Question: How do you communicate a sense of place quickly and effectively?

Photo credit: "Sunrise under scrutiny" by Loco Steve under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Friday, March 7

The Importance of Setting In Writing A Murderously Good Mystery

The Importance of Setting In Writing A Murderously Good Mystery


Today I continue talking about murderously good mysteries and how to write them.

The Five Elements: Milieu, Victim, Murderer, Suspects, Detectives



"The detective story has five elements — the milieu, the victim, the murderer, the suspects, the detectives."

I want to look at each of these in turn but that's going to take a while so, for today, let's start with a murder mystery's milieu.

Milieu


a. The Society/Setting must be closed.


I think that what W.H. Auden meant by "society" was, in practical terms, the sum total of characters that would have to be taken into consideration when solving the murder. One's pool of suspects.

Small suspect pool. When Auden writes that the society must be closed he means that, in selecting the setting, we need to pick something that will limit the number of people who could have committed the murder; that is, limit the number of suspects we'll have to deal with.

For example, in Agatha Christie's Murder at the Vicarage the society would be everyone in the village of St. Mary Mead where the murder took place. The suspects are those who had, or could have had, the means, motive and opportunity to kill the victim, Colonel Lucius Protheroe.

One murderer. In addition to having a relatively small suspect pool it must also be clear that the murderer is one of the people in the society you set up.  Auden writes that what the murder mystery writer needs to avoid is any possibility the murderer comes from outside the society. For example, it wouldn't do for the murderer to be someone on a road trip from London who killed the Colonel for kicks and then drove back to London. 

It must be clear from the beginning that one of the people in the society (in the case of my example, the village of St. Mary Mead) must have committed the crime. The only question is: who?

By the way, it doesn't have to be just one murderer, but the principle of parsimony applies and if the evidence doesn't suggest more than one murderer was at work, it's likely best not to complicate matters. On the other hand, as time goes on it may appear that there was more than one murderer. In several of Agatha Christie's books it turned out this was the case but she tended to use this as a twist near, or at, the end of the tale.

Every character within the society should have multiple connections with every other member.


Characters, like people, aren't islands unto themselves; each character has--or should have--multiple connections to every other character. This raises certain questions: i) what kind of connections and ii) how are they relevant to the murder (many connections probably wouldn't be) and iii) how will the sleuth discover them?

Kind of connections. Auden writes that everyone in the society should be closely related either by family ties, by geography (a small village such as St. Mary Mead), by occupation (they all work at the same company or go to the same lodge) or by happenstance (happen to be trapped in an aeroplane together). 

Relevance and discoverability. Each and every character should be a potential suspect, but the detective might have to dig a bit; do some research, interview a few characters; to figure out the exact nature of the connection between the suspect and the victim and whether it's relevant to the murder.

In the beginning, the members of the group--the society--will first appear to be strangers to each other, but the sleuth will discover they have many interesting, intimate (and possibly scandalous) connections with each other.

Examples:
- Group of relatives (Auden gives the examples of the Christmas dinner at the country house).
- Geography keeping people together; a small rural village, a college campus, a military academy.
- A group of people who work together. Auden suggests a theatre company, but it could also be a band, choir, writers' convention, and so on.
- A group isolated by technology: an airplane, a train, an RV, and so on.

b. Nothing bad ever happens here.


Auden writes that:

"Nature should reflect its human inhabitants, i.e., it should be the Great Good Place; for the more Eden-like it is, the greater the contradiction of murder. The country is preferable to the town, a well-to-do neighborhood (but not too well-to-do-or there will be a suspicion of ill-gotten gains) better than a slum. The corpse must shock not only because it is a corpse but also because, even for a corpse, it is shockingly out of place, as when a dog makes a mess on a drawing room carpet." (Auden)

The setting should be unsullied by murder. The society should be such that murder is ... well, if not unthinkable, then very very unlikely. A nunnery, academia, the church choir. This way, when murder occurs, the crises is greater. If a murder were to occur, say, in the bad area of a big city late at night we wouldn't be as shocked than if it occurred in the middle of a play on a cruise ship in mid-afternoon.

Also, having the murder occur in a setting, a context, where murder is rare helps put pressure on the law to solve the crime in order that things can get back to normal. 

In addition, the law itself would be a disruptive influence, one that many would find unwelcome. This may be bad for the characters, but it's great for the storyteller because it's a source of conflict. Every character--even the (apparently) most blameless, most upright, is cast under the same pall of suspicion. This makes everyone--everyone except the murderer!--anxious to expose the murderer and get things back to the way they were.

Characters


Auden writes:

"The characters in a detective story should [...] be eccentric (aesthetically interesting individuals) and good (instinctively ethical) — good, that is, either in appearance, later shown to be false, or in reality, first concealed by an appearance of bad." 

In other words, it should, on the face of it, seem implausible that any of the suspects committed the murder. (If there is someone around who hated the victim then give them an ironclad alibi.)

As the murder mystery unfolds, those who seemed to have no motive will become serious contenders for the murder. Similarly, those who seemed most likely to commit the murder will be shown either not to have had the opportunity, or to have vastly different motives than it first appeared.

Thats it for today! It looks as though these posts have morphed into a series. In the next instalment I will look at what W.H. Auden--lifelong lover of murder mysteries that he was--had to say about what makes the perfect victim. In the meantime, good writing!

Photo credit: "Recreation" by *Light Painting* under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, January 23

Narrative Setting: Making Your Story World Reflect Your Hero's Journey

Narrative Setting: Making Your Story World Reflect Your Hero's Journey


I'm finishing my series on setting today! Yes! I'm excited. Finally I'm getting to the material I've wanted to talk about for ages: connecting the setting of a story up to, hooking it into, the arc of the hero's journey. (The other episodes can be found here, here, here, here, here and here.)

Another way of saying this is: have the setting mirror the protagonist's arc--which is going to be the main arc of the story. (Here I'm talking about a story where, although there may be several main characters, there is one character whose quest sets the spine of the story.)

Here's how I'm going to approach this. First, we'll (very quickly) look at the progress of the hero from bondage to freedom; from (as Michael Hauge would say) living in his identity to living in his essence; from unconsciously living with a weakness that was destined to prevent him from realizing his true capacity, to finding the strength to conquer his weakness and (at least try to) live the life he really wants.

Not all stories go like that. Tragedies, for instance, often take the character from living a good, fulfilled, life and--because of the hero's tragic weakness, or because of the machinations of the gods or fate--his life, and the lives of those he loves, are destroyed. 

In what follows I'm going to focus on a typical story that more-or-less fits the hero's journey.

Truby's Seven Key Steps of Story Structure


I should have said this before, but most of this material, and all of the quotations, are from John Truby's excellent book, "The Anatomy of Story."

1. Weakness and need
2. Desire
3. Opponent
4. Plan
5. Battle
6. Self-revelation
7. New equilibrium

Creating The Story World Around The Protagonist


1. Weakness and need.


The protagonist has a (at least one) weakness, a need, something that is preventing him from realizing his true potential, preventing him from living the life that would make him truly happy.

Story world

Show a story world "that is a physical manifestation of the hero's weakness or fear." 

For example, Luke Skywalker grew up on a desert planet, one that was on the outskirts, away from anything Luke considered remotely interesting. His uncle kept promising he could leave the farm to go to the academy, but something always seem to come up, something it was his duty to attend to.

2. Desire.


The protagonist has a desire, something he wants more than anything else. 

- Perhaps (The Firm) he wants to escape the trailer park of his youth so he dreams of becoming a partner in a rich law firm.
- Perhaps (Pi) the protagonist wants to discover the number that is the name of God and created all things.
- Perhaps (Lord of the Rings) the protagonist wants to destroy the One Ring and so defeat the Big Bad.

This desire will form the 'spine' of the story. The idea is that everything--setting included--should relate to the protagonist and, most especially, to the protagonist's desire.

Story World

Your story world should express the hero's goal. For example, in The Firm, the hero (McDeere) begins his quest at university--Harvard Law School. The protagonist's desire is to never, ever, be poor again and his goal is to make partner in a wealthy law firm.

3. Opponent.


The antagonistic force opposes the protagonist in his quest to fulfil his desire. Note: Desires can be general, diffuse. A goal should be concrete enough that one could take a picture of it being achieved. For example:

Desire: I want to be rich.
Goal: 
- Become a partner at a prestigious law firm.
- Find the lost treasure of the Incas.
- Rob the bank on 1st and 3rd.

Also, the goal should be such that it can be achieved by either the protagonist or the antagonist, not by both. (Many times, both could fail to achieve it, but only one can succeed.)

Story World

Protagonist & Antagonist: 

- Their lairs, their living spaces, their domiciles, their homes--as well as their workplaces--should express their desires. For the antagonist, his physical domain should also represent "his power and ability to attack the hero's great weakness."

- Also, Truby holds that the "world of the opponent should also be an extreme version of the hero's world of slavery."

4. Plan.


The protagonist devises a plan to defeat the opposition and achieve his goal.

Story World: 

Apparent defeat or temporary freedom

Apparent defeat: All hope is lost. At this point all of the "forces defeating and enslaving the hero are literally pressing in on him." 

For example, Star Wars IV where Luke and company are in the garbage compacter.

5. Battle.


The protagonist battles the antagonistic force.

Story World

This is the climax of the story. The battle--or confrontation; it doesn't have to be physical--"should occur in the most confined place of the entire story." Why? Truby writes that this creates a "pressure cooker effect".

"Realistically, a dogfight would occur in open space where the pilots have room to maneuver. But Lucas understands that the best battle occurs in the tightest space possible."

6. Self-revelation. 


At some point the hero will suffer a devastating setback. It will seem to him, and to the audience, that his quest is over, that there's no way he can continue. 

Cue the self-revelation.

Generally there's a B-story (the A-story tracks the hero's quest for an external goal while the B-story tracks the hero's quest for an internal goal), and the answer/resolution of this B-story often provides the hero with the key to the A-story. It will give him an idea for how to overcome whatever opposition he is experiencing and, against all odds, achieve his goal. (Or not, it's up to you.)

Story World: Visit to death

The hero thinks he is going to die. "He should encounter his mortality in a place that represents the elements of decline, aging, and death."

I'm tempted to use Luke's imprisonment in the trash compactor again--but I won't. Countless movies have the hero visit a creepy old house (or other structure) with skeletons (Raiders of the Lost Ark), or take them down into the cellar, a dark and musty basement (the Paranormal Activity movies), and bring them close--even symbolically (e.g., a shrivelled rose)--to death.

7. New equilibrium. 


The hero has been transformed by his confrontation/experience with death. He goes back to the Ordinary World, the world before the adventure, but he's changed. At the very end of the story we see how the lessons the hero has learnt through his quest enable him to respond to the challenges of daily life in different ways. (Or not. A comedic story often ends with the hero learning nothing.)

Story World: Freedom or Slavery

Truby holds that the world "should represent in physical terms the final maturation or decline of the character."

Take the hero, the protagonist, back to their original world--the Ordinary World. Show how the journey has changed the hero.

Going back to Luke and Star Wars IV, there is a clear difference in what he's wearing. In the beginning he's in off-white, ordinary, clothes. Alone. 

At the end he is in a white uniform, in front of many people, standing with close friends, being honored for his contribution as a leader.

Look at where Luke is. When we first meet Luke he is outside in the desert, assisting his uncle as the man shops for droids. When we leave Luke at the end of his journey he is inside a rebel base, in a gleaming white room. Rather than assisting anyone, he is being honored as a leader.

Points to keep in mind when crafting your setting:


1. Identify the key visual oppositions.


These oppositions should be based on your character's values. (e.g., Star Wars IV, V, and VI all provide terrific examples of this.)

2. How is time expressed in the story world?


The Past

Truby writes: you set a story in the past to "show values dominant in the past that still hurt people today."

The Future

"You set a story in the future to give the audience another pair of glasses, to abstract the present in order to understand it better."

The Seasons

Each season can convey certain meanings to the audience about the hero and the world.

How?

a. Change the seasons to reflect the inner states of your hero has he changes.
b. If you take your hero through all four seasons this can provide a nice way to compare and contrast the protagonist's start and end states.

Note: Think of ways you can use a reader's anticipation to surprise them.

For example, a person in shorts and t-shirt is unexceptional on a beach in July but quite exceptional walking to the store in December--if there's snow on the ground.

It's normal for many animals to give birth in the spring. Unconsciously (or consciously) we tend to associate the two. 

To shake things up, why not have someone give birth in the winter? This could work as a symbol (humans out of touch with nature) or it could increase conflict. 

For example, snowdrifts cling to the sides of an isolated cabin. Inside a woman gives birth. The lights flicker as a storm shakes the cabin, highlighting the woman's dwindling supply of firewood.

Or something. This is one way to use the setting--the story world--to introduce, or increase, conflict.

Holidays and Rituals

Truby writes: "A ritual is a philosophy that has been translated into a set of actions that are repeated at certain intervals."

Rituals are dramatic. Think of your last family get together, perhaps for Thanksgiving. Was it calm and relaxing or dramatic?

What do these rituals mean to the protagonist? How do they tie into the protagonist's desire? (Perhaps they don't.)

A Single Day

You can use a daily event/ritual (say, lunch) to track a few characters acting simultaneously.

That's it! This is the end of my series on setting, I hope you found something you could take away, something you can adapt to enrich your writing.

In any case, good writing!

Photo credit: "Walk Alone..." by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, January 20

Narrative Setting: How To Build A World




"You create a story world to express and manifest your characters, especially your hero." John Truby, The Anatomy of Story

John Truby, in The Anatomy of Story, writes: "creating a unique world for the story--and organically connecting it to the characters--is as essential to great storytelling as character, plot, theme, and dialogue."

When I read that passage I knew I couldn't close out my series on narrative setting without talking about how Truby constructs a story world, a narrative setting, one designed specifically for his characters. Truby talks the reader through how to create a story world that characters not only 'hook' into, but which complements the hero's journey and gives it meaning.

Truby writes (and this is something he emphasizes all through "The Anatomy of Story"): just as the interrelations between the characters--especially the protagonist--give meaning to the whole, so it is for settings.

Truby writes: 

"... in good stories, the characters come first, and the writer designs the world to be an infinitely detailed manifestation of those characters."

"The process of translating the story line into a physical story world, which then elicits certain emotions in the audience, is a difficult one. That's because you are really speaking two languages—one of words, the other of images—and matching them exactly over the course of the story."

Here is John Truby's advice for creating a story world rich in meaning:

1. Create The Story Space

1a. Use the story's designing principle to draw the boundaries of your story world.

Begin with the story's designing principle "since this is what holds everything together." The designing principle will tell you where to draw the boundaries, what shape the world should be, what kind of world it should be.

1b. Divide the story world into visual oppositions.

Divide the story world we delineated in step one into "visual oppositions" based on how your characters oppose one another.

2. Three types of setting.

Truby advises us to "detail the world using ... natural settings, artificial spaces, and technology."

3. Connect the story world to the hero's overall development.

When I read this part of Truby's book I knew I had to share this information on my blog. This point is really why I'm doing this post, we're going through steps 1 and 2 because they're prerequisites to get here.

SO. Let's take this one step at a time.

1. Creating The Story Space


1a. Use the story's designing principle to find the boundaries of your story world. 


First, let's quickly discuss the designing principle. This is one of the core concepts of Truby's "The Anatomy of Story" so I'm not going to be able to do it justice here. 

Truby writes:

"The designing principle is what organizes the story as a whole. It is the internal logic of the story, what makes the parts hang together organically so that the story becomes greater than the sum of its parts."

Think of the designing principle as the seed, the idea seed, the nucleus, that a story grows from. Here's one of Truby's examples:

Tootsie:

Designing principle: "Force a male chauvinist to live as a woman."

(Note: Truby also talks about the premise but I'm not going to cover this concept here.)

Finding the boundaries.


What we want to do is develop a one line description of our setting, something that will tie it into the designing principle of our story.

Here's an example from the movie, "Four Weddings and a Funeral":

Designing principle: "A group of friends experiences four Utopias (weddings) and a moment in hell (funeral) as they all look for their right partner in marriage."

Story World: "The Utopian world and rituals of weddings."

John Truby gives many more examples in his book, and I should mention that I'm leaving out an enormous amount of material--the story premise, theme line, and so on.

Anyway, after you write down the designing principle you're equipped to delineate the extent of the story world, to clearly establish its physical boundaries.

Truby writes that the story "arena is the basic space of drama. It is a single, unified place surrounded by some kind of wall. Everything inside the arena is part of the story. Everything outside the arena is not."

Truby goes on to say there are four main ways of creating a story arena that possess enough "variety of place and action" to sustain the events of any story.

i. The Spotted Umbrella


Think of a medieval town surrounded by thick walls. Many inhabitants of the town could have a general overall knowledge of the town and how it's laid out, its various areas, and so on, though a particular individual might spend most of their time in only a few of its many environs.

For example, when I watched the movie "Aliens" I had a general sense of the planet but Ripley only travelled to a few places on its surface. In terms of my analogy, those are the spots within the umbrella.

ii. The Straight Line


This is the basic layout of a journey story.

One of the challenges of writing a cohesive journey story is making all the different areas seem connected. 

What one usually doesn't want is for the reader to feel as though each location is a different story. You want them to feel it's all part of one unified tale.

One way to create "the sense of a single area" is for the terrain the hero travels through to remain fundamentally the same.

For instance, a hero might travel to several different villages located along the same river. Or the hero might travel to several locations in the same desert or country.

Truby gives the movie "Titanic" as an example of a story where the hero travels in a straight line.

iii. The Circle


This approach has much in common with the previous one, with the exception that, at the end, the hero returns home. Truby's example: "The Wizard of Oz."

iv. Fish Out Of Water


The fish out of water story generally utilizes two different worlds.

In one world, the first, the hero is seen to have certain talents (or weaknesses). Then the hero is unceremoniously tossed into a second world--one where the rules are markedly different--and those same talents (or weaknesses) are shown.

Often, whatever the hero did well in one world he will be completely incompetent at in the other. 

Of course, the two worlds aren't necessarily different physical places. Something could happen to so completely alter the social environment of the hero that the change is just as profound as a change of place. For instance, the hero's five older siblings die in a tragic accident and so he goes from completely ignored to being continually doted on.

Truby's examples: "Beverly Hills Cop," "Crocodile Dundee."

Note: Truby writes: "What holds them [the separate locations] together is that the hero uses the same talents in both places ..."

Truby's tip: Don't stay too long in the first area. Truby doesn't like talking about acts, but I'd say, in a three act story, be sure to take the hero into the second world--the special world of the adventure--at the beginning of the second act.

1b. Divide the story world into visual oppositions.


Ask yourself: 

What are the oppositions between my characters? 
What values do they hold?
How do your characters fight each other?
How do their values conflict?

As you ask and answer these questions think about how these oppositions could be symbolized or represented visually.

Truby advises writers to attempt to produce three or four critical, visual, oppositions.

Truby uses the example of "King Kong." The opposition is, in part, between "Carl Denham, and the giant prehistoric beast, Kong. So the main opposition within the story world is the island of New York, the man-made and overly civilized but extremely harsh world where image-maker Denham is "king," versus Skull Island, the extremely harsh state of nature where Kong, master of physical force, is king."

Nice!

2. Three types of setting.


There are three main kinds of settings:

a. Natural settings
b. Man-made settings
c. Tools/Technology

a. Natural settings


i. The ocean.

An ocean has two parts: the surface and the deep, dark, depths.

The surface:

The surface of the ocean gives us a sense of contest, a sense of "a game of life and death played out on the grandest scale."

The deep places: 

- A weightless dream world.
- A terrifying graveyard.

In the deep places sea creatures reach up to grab those on the surface and drag them down to their death in the murky depths.

Also, when I think of the deep places of the ocean, it occurs to me that often bodies of water are used to symbolize the unconscious mind and the creatures/complexes it harbours.

ii. The forest.

The forest is a natural cathedral. "It is the place where contemplative people go and to which lovers sneak away."

The forest is also where children get lost and witches live. There may also be a ghost or two and we wouldn't be surprised to see a hunter stalking his prey.

John Truby talks about many other kinds of natural settings: outer space, jungles, desert and ice, islands, mountains (the mountain vs the plain), plains, rivers, weather. But I'll let you read about those in Truby's excellent book. 

b. Man-made settings


Truby writes that each man-made space "is a physical representation, in microcosm, of the hero and the society in which he lives."

I'm only going to go over one of Truby's examples: the house.

The house.


A house encloses a character and "shapes the growth of the person's mind."

Houses are intimate. They are spaces where your character can express himself without fear of ridicule. 

Question: What might your hero reveal about himself in his house that he wouldn't anywhere else?

The opposites.


Safety vs Adventure

Generally, we think of a house as a place of safety. It's a place for you to relax and take refuge in, it's a place for you to enjoy your friends and family. 

No hostile forces are allowed in. 

In this sense, a house is a place of safety.

BUT if the hero remains always in a safe place he will never grow, never achieve anything. He will stagnate. Truby writes that the trick is to use the house as "the strong foundation from which we go out and take on the world."

"Often in stories, the first step of adventure, the longing for it, happens at the window. A character looks through the eyes of a house ..." looks out at the far hills, at the mountaintop or even the jungle, and dreams of what might be, dreams of adventure.

Truby has many other examples, and he talks about various kinds of houses (the warm house, the terrifying house, the cellar versus the attic). Truly, if you have any questions about setting, developing the opposites, how to hook the characters in your story into the landscape/setting, chapter six of "The Anatomy of Story" is definitely worth the read.

3. Connect the story world to the hero's overall development.


THIS--connecting, hooking, the story world (/setting) into the hero's arc, his journey--is really what I've been wanting to talk about. 

We've laid the foundation by formulating our story's designing principle and drawing the boundaries of our world. We've divided this story world into visual oppositions and we've explored the various types of settings (natural, artificial, technology) and how these can help develop the hero's journey.

But since this post is already twice as long as usual, I'll save that for next time.

Good writing!

Photo credit: "almost may" by paul bica under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, January 18

Michael Connelly And Narrative Setting



Once I begin thinking about something--setting for instance--I'll start to see mention of it everywhere.

Michael Connelly On Setting


For instance, Michael Connelly (he writes, among other things, the fabulous Harry Bosch novels) recently gave an interview to Noah Charney over at The Daily Beast (How I Write: Michael Connelly). Connelly says:

"What has inspired me for going on 40 years is chapter 13 [of Raymond Chandler's book The Little Sister]."

Right there Connelly had me hooked. (Keep in mind this is the first sentence of the interview. Granted, the interviewer arranged the questions, but that's a great first line.) One chapter has inspired Connelly for 40 years.

Anyway, Connelly goes on:

"In that chapter Philip Marlowe, frustrated by the events of the day and the case he's on, takes a ride around Los Angeles. He ruminates a bit on what is going on in his case, but the chapter has little to do with plot, and everything to do with the interplay of character and place."

When I read the above passage I was struck again by the extreme importance and power of the interplay between character and setting (as well as the importance of sequels--but that's a topic for another day). Connelly goes on:

"... he [Chandler] had grabbed the character of place and connected it to the character of his protagonist."

Ah ha!

Yes, while I was reading the article I actually said "ah ha!" and, excited, began scribbling out this blog post. (grin)

What Connelly is talking about here--this is my take on it at least--is setting as character. Also, he highlights the importance of connecting setting (as well as everything else!) back up to the protagonist.

As Dwight V. Swain says, something is significant in a novel to the extent it is significant to the protagonist.

The Neverending Series


I know I said this was going to be the last post in my series about setting but what John Truby says about the subject in his book The Anatomy of Story is just too good not to include.

On Monday I'll talk about creating the, as John Truby puts it, "exterior forms and spaces," of a story. I'll also touch on how these exterior forms are created from, how they are generated by, the essence of the story itself.

Stay tuned!

Photo credit: "Untitled" by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, January 15

Narrative Setting: Part Three



Yesterday I mentioned I'd read The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby. 

Well.

Truby has an excellent section on developing your story's setting. Even though I wanted (really really wanted) to finish this series today, I'm going to tack on another article and go into Truby's insights on how to develop a setting that will make any story more engaging. Here's a peek:

Truby writes: 

"To sum up this part of the writing process [developing a setting]: you start with a simple story line (the seven steps) and a set of characters. You then create the exterior forms and spaces that express these story elements, and these forms and spaces have the desired effect in the hearts and minds of your audience."

I'll go into what Truby means by a story line, the seven steps, and so on, in the fourth (and final!) part of this series. (The previous parts can be found here and here.)

Today, though, let's get back on track and talk about how setting can introduce, and increase, story conflict.

3. The setting of a story can be used to introduce, and increase, conflict.


Let's look at what conflict is. Simply stated, I think of conflict as what results when a character's efforts to attain a goal are opposed/frustrated.

Many times what opposes a character's efforts to attain their goal is another character. But the environment can do this as well.

For instance, perhaps your protagonist, Hank, is a teenager and his goal is to win the prestigious Sunnyside Surfing Competition but he can't win unless he trains for it.

Big problem! Hanks family recently moved from the sunny, sandy, beaches of Sunnyside to Montreal ... and it's winter! Hank can't train for the competition so he's sure to lose. 

That sets up a problem, an obstacle Hank must solve, and all because of a change of setting.

Many times I forget to take advantage of opportunities to introduce, or increase, conflict the setting could provide. 

An example of using setting to increase conflict


Have you ever watched Mr. Monk? That show was fabulous at using setting to introduce conflict.

In the third episode of season one, Monk is introduced to the police commissioner--an important person and someone he will have to impress with his detective skills if he is ever to get back on the force, and getting back on the force is Monk's great overriding goal.

Monk's desire: to be on his best behavior, appear normal, and impress the man.

Problem/obstacle/complication: the commissioner has a few crumbs on his jacket.

Conflict: Monk wants to brush the crumbs off but he knows that's not a good idea.

Outcome: Monk can't help himself and brushes the crumbs off anyway.

Here the crumbs were used to provoke an action that not only shows Monk's obsessive-compulsive disorder but it also introduces conflict. 

Here's another example, one you've probably seen countless times in movies and on TV: a waiter stumbles, spilling scalding coffee into the protagonist's lap when he needs to be on his best behavior. How he handles this situation will reveal his/her character and could introduce conflict.

Does he turn it into a joke? Is he gracious? Arrogant? Condescending? If it happens just before a job interview how does he explain the stain to the interviewer? Does it fluster him? Does he shrug it off? Does it make him so distracted he can't complete the interview? Does it make him so angry he makes a terrible impression?

The trick is to always be on the lookout for opportunities to use setting to introduce, or increase, conflict.

Example: How setting can affect mood


Here's another example. Let's say we're writing a horror story. What mood do we wish to evoke in our readers? We wish to horrify them. What evokes horror?

In a sense, fear is acknowledgement of, or recognition of, the imminence of danger.

So, what evokes horror?
- Recognition of the imminence of death. Your death as well as the deaths of those you love.
- Recognition of the imminence of pain.
- Recognition of the imminence of the unknown.
- Recognition of the imminence of disfigurement. (Think of slasher films like Saw. Gorn.)
- Recognition of the imminence of confinement, of imprisonment. Of being at the mercy of an imaginative and well-equipped sadist.
- Recognition of the imminence of disillusionment. The imminence of destructive revelation.

What sort of setting would help communicate these sort of feelings/thoughts to the reader? 

The Dark

The dark hides things. It makes the familiar alien. It manufactures the unknown.

Isolation

The isolation of the hero means no outside help. They are stranded, all alone. If the hero wins and escapes the horrors, they will have to do it relying on only what is within them.

Monster

I think the best monsters--(for me) the scariest--are normal things that have been twisted in some way. I haven't been the same since I watched Pet Sematary

Speaking of the twisted, just yesterday, +John Ward sent out a link to this article about creepypasta. Here's an example of twisting a familiar setting to create horror:
‘Daddy, I had a bad dream.’

You blink your eyes and pull up on your elbows. Your clock glows red in the darkness — it’s 3:23. ‘Do you want to climb into bed and tell me about it?’

‘No, Daddy.’

The oddness of the situation wakes you up more fully. You can barely make out your daughter’s pale form in the darkness of your room. ‘Why not, sweetie?’

‘Because in my dream, when I told you about the dream, the thing wearing Mommy’s skin sat up.’

For a moment, you feel paralysed; you can’t take your eyes off of your daughter. The covers behind you begin to shift.
Gah!

By the way, that's also an excellent use of the seldom used second person POV!

I thought that piece of microfiction nicely illustrated how important setting is to evoking emotion. 

The setting used in the above story is familiar. Intimate. Would the story have the same impact if it was morning, rather than the witching hour, and the exchange took place while the child's parents were busy preparing for work? I don't think so.

Surprise & Disorientation

Surprise and disorientation are used to generate a feeling of horror and, often, setting is instrumental in this. The dark, the isolation, the monster under the bed. Think of the last part of Alien when Sigourney Weaver makes her way to the shuttle, running down the twisting hallways, expecting danger at every turn. For me, it was the most suspenseful part of the movie.

By the way, IMHO, a movie that did a terrific job of using setting to communicate mood, and using both mood and setting to demonstrate character, was Pi.

Okay, that's it for now. Good writing!

Photo credit: "2014-006 blue monday morning" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, January 11

Narrative Setting: Part Two

Narrative Setting: Part Two


This is part two of a three part series about narrative setting. In part one (Narrative Setting) I talked about what setting is. Today, in part two, I'll go over how setting can be used to develop character. In part three I'll focus on how setting can be used to introduce--and increase--conflict.

Before I talk about setting and character, let me tie up a loose end from my Narrative Setting post and talk briefly about how setting can affect the mood of a story.

Setting And Mood

"Mood creates an emotional setting that envelops the reader." 

The key point here is that mood is something that is created in the reader. (Tone, on the other hand, has to do with the voice of the narrator.) Recall that since our goal in telling a story is to evoke certain emotions in the reader, creating the right sort of mood is important.

I'll be talking a bit more about mood in my third post when I discuss examples.

All right! On to the topic of todays blog post: how a good setting helps us develop our characters' character.

Ways In Which Setting Can Be Used To Develop Character


1. Setting is essential to bring the story world to life through the senses: smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing.

2. Setting is essential for situating the character in--not just surroundings--but a society, a culture.

3. The setting of a story can be used to introduce, and increase, conflict.
Let's take these point by point.

1. Setting is essential to bring the world of the story to life through the senses: smell, taste, sight, touch, hearing.


The following is from Dwight V. Swain's excellent book, "Techniques of the Selling Writer":
"... How do you bring a setting to life?

"The answer, of course, lies in the human animal himself. His world is a sensory world—a world of green grass and white houses . . . purring kittens and thundering trucks . . . Chanel No. 5 and curling wood smoke . . . fresh cold orange juice and hot crisp bacon . . . silk’s rich smoothness and the harsh grit of volcanic ash.

"So, you build your story world of these same sensory impressions—the seen, the heard, the smelled, the touched, the tasted. Emphasis is on the vivid image and the impactful figure of speech."
A trick I sometimes use--I suppose it's not really a trick, more like a practise or a habit--is to keep lists of sensory words close at hand and review them periodically. 

Also, if I come across a particularly vivid turn of phrase--for instance, "curling wood smoke"--I write it down. And, as I write, I say it aloud. Picture it. For me, "curling wood smoke," that phrase, gives a certain feeling, it conveys a certain mood. It invokes memories of campfires and long warm nights up at my parents' place. Think how you could describe something else and invoke the same, or a similar, memory/feeling.

Here are a few links to lists of words that evoke the senses:

Smell

Taste

Sound

Touch

Sight

All

Misc

2. Developing a milieu is essential for situating the character in--not just surroundings--but a society, a culture.


I talked a bit about this last time. This advice is from Dwight V. Swain and appears in his book "Creating Characters." He writes:
"Milieu is a word I like. Because while, technically, it’s defined as environment or surroundings, it implies a great deal more.

"Specifically, it captures the feeling not just of setting or landscape, but of a society; a social as well as a physical locale. Growing up in San Francisco implies more than just the Golden Gate, Pacific Park, and Union Square. Life in the Mississippi Delta is one thing; that in a Pennsylvania Amish community, another. And double that in spades for a past in the slums of Juarez, the singles bars of New York’s Upper West Side, or a French convent.

"Such social settings reach out to embrace people as well as geography. They mold the various strata of society that fix standards, for mutually accepted norms and rules are the glue that bonds any group or class together. Shared customs, which clothes are acceptable for which occasions, and how to behave in church or mosque or synagogue are what create a society."
Dwight V. Swain continues on to say that writers must know at least these two things regarding a character in a society:

1. "[...] know the rules and conduct patterns that govern behavior in that particular setting;"

2. "[...] know the degree to which Character follows these rules;"

This presents the writer with three questions:
a) What are the rules of your particular society (or societies)?

b) Does your character know the rules? (Did he grow up in this society or is he a stranger?)

c) Does your character follow the rules?
That's it! Next time we'll finish off this series by looking at how to use setting to increase conflict. 

Update: Here's the link to Narrative Setting: Part Three.

Stay tuned. Good writing!

Photo credit: "2014-009 - dry folsom" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, January 8

Narrative Setting

Narrative Setting


I've wanted to write an article about setting for what seems like ages. I've wanted to talk about what setting is and how it can be used to increase character identification and, as a result, narrative drive (/suspense). 

I wanted this to be one article--I really really did!--but it grew into two. In the first part, here, I talk about what narrative drive is and why we, writers, should care. In the second part, I talk about how to use setting to hook into a character and help make them three-dimensional.

What Is Setting?


For the purposes of this article, here's how I define setting:
The setting of a story concerns the time, place and circumstances of the narrative.
That definition comes from tvtropes.org, Settings.

I looked at a few different definitions, but that one came closest to how I think of it. Also, it's simple. Simple is good (but often not easy).

Before I go any further, I'd like to take a quick look at something I'm going to revisit toward the end of this article: Why should a writer care about setting? What does it do in a story? What is its function, its role? How does it help the writer accomplish his/her ends/goal of evoking emotion in readers?

The Goal of Storytelling


The goal of storytelling--this is what I think--is to invoke, or possibly provoke, emotions in an audience. In the case of writers, these are our readers.

How does narrative setting help a writer reach this goal? In other words, what is its function?

The Functions of Setting


1. The setting helps establish the mood of the story.
2. The setting reflects the theme.
3. The setting aids in character explication and reader identification.

Before we can explore each of these aspects of setting--how a writer can exploit setting to aid in character identification--we need to take a closer look at what setting is.

The Elements of Setting


Time:

- Historical epoch: Does the story take place in the past? During what we now call the industrial revolution? At the height of the Roman Empire? At some point in the undreamt of future? Or perhaps the story is a strange, twisted, far-earth scenario?

- Seasons: What time of year is it? Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter? If this is a fictional world, does it have seasons?

- Day: What time of day is it? Day? Night? Twilight? The witching hour?

- Flow of time: Is there anything unusual about the flow of time in your narrative? Is your story written as a stream of consciousness? Does your novel employ time-jumps to convey the story? 

Place:

Where does your story take place?

- Location: 
If your world is fictional, what is its geography? Is it an unexplored wilderness or is it well populated? If your world is not one great wilderness, does the story take place in a town? A city? A jungle? A forest? Is the place barren? Lush? Isolated? Densely populated?

- Geography:
Is there much water nearby? Is the air dry or wet? Is there snow at Christmas time? Does it matter? What sports or hobbies could a person easily engage in given the features of the area? Snowboarding? Skiing? Swimming? Surfing? What sports couldn't your characters do? (Could your characters swim without risking hypothermia in December?)


Setting as it relates to each scene


I've touched on some of this information, above, but now we get specific.

Time:
- What time of day is it? Is it day? Night? Twilight? The witching hour? Lunch? Dinner? What associations do the main characters have about this time? What memories might it provoke? For instance, a character might wake during the witching hour and remember a nightmare they had as a child.

Place:
- Indoors? Outdoors?
- Outdoors: What's the weather like? Is the sun hidden behind clouds making it dark as night? Is it nighttime, yet lightning flashes make the landscape bright as day? Is it snowing? Raining? Sunny with the unbearable heat of the desert beating down? Are your characters in the Antarctic? Are they isolated by the distance and the unbearable, bitter, cold?
- Indoors: What are the characters' surroundings like? Are they lavish? Poor? Shabby? Ostentatious? Is it a human-made structure or natural, something like a cave. If man-made, were they invited here? Does the character find the place comfortable? 

The room could be lavish and yet uncomfortable if the character is too worried about ruining expensive furnishings to use them. This would be one way to show character, to demonstrate what kind of environment they were used to.

That's it! Stay tuned for part two where I'll talk about how to use narrative setting to make characters more interesting.

Update: Here's a link to Narrative Setting: Part Two.

Photo credit: "Catwoman Dark" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.