Thursday, August 17, 2017

Setting as a Character


by Linda Thorne

I’ve been reading a lot about setting as a character and the subject has piqued my curiosity. Setting was extremely important to me in my debut novel, Just Another Termination, which is set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The reason I kept my timeline for my book in pre-Katrina time is because Hurricane Katrina hit prior to its publication and destroyed many of the places and landmarks I had described in detail. It was going to take a major overhaul to bring the book up to date. It would also be impossible to do for years because that’s how long it took to rebuild much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My solution was to leave the timeframe of my book back in late 2004 through early 2005 and let my entire series run in the past. It starts prior to Katrina with Katrina hitting at the end of my second book (a work-in-progress) and then the third book will drop into post-Katrina time starting in late 2005. My entire planned Judy Kenagy mystery series will always run behind current time.

Then I started hearing the term, “Setting as a character” and thought, Hey, I’ve got tons of descriptions of settings in my book. Could I call my settings characters? The answer turned out to be no. Setting as a character is a lot deeper and more complex than just a good description of a place. I believe such settings would be found more often in literary books and not so much in commercial works like mine.

From what I’ve read, when setting becomes a character it also becomes some sort of metaphor, which I’m not sure I totally understand. What I do understand is how the setting felt when I watched the movie, The Shining with Jack Nicholson. A few years afterward, my family and I had lunch at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado where the movie was filmed. I could picture Jack Nicholson walking around each and every corner. I did not read the book, but something tells me Stephen King did just as good of a job transforming the inside of that hotel in the mountains just outside of Denver into the character that it was in the movie. Some other examples of books I’ve heard of where this technique is used are: On Mystic Lake by Kristin Hannah, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings, and the bayou in Athol Dickson’s River Rising.

Do any of you have a simple way to describe how you’d detect setting as a character in a book or do you have some examples you’ve found in your reading?

10 comments:

Mollie Blake said...

Thanks for this Linda. I had not heard of the concept. Interesting. xx

Amy Reade said...

Hi Linda, very interesting post. My litmus test for setting as character is this: would the story fundamentally change if the setting were different? If the answer is yes, then the setting is a character. If no, then it isn't.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I consider the setting a character when it influences the behavior of characters and determines the plot. The example that comes to mind is a book most people have probably forgotten, The Quiet River by P.M. Hubbard, a prolific British mystery writer.

Regina Jeffers said...

Before I retired from the classroom, the idea of setting as a character is one I always taught, especially to my AP students. One of the more obvious examples we used was Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." The Vietnam jungle was as much the American soldier's enemy as were the North Vietnamese.

Morgan Mandel said...

I'd guess that if the story depends on where it is set, then setting would be considered a character.

Linda Thorne said...

Thanks for your comments. Your descriptions are a lot clearer than what I found online. I'll now recognize when setting is a character. The story, The Shining, would not exist if set in anything but a huge, closed, old hotel similar to The Stanley where the movie was filmed.

Mehedi Hasan said...

Project Rainbow was mysterious and secret experiment during World War Two. They used U.S.S Eldridge for Project Rainbow . The goal was to make that ship invisible to enemy detection. The project’s had another name. Philadelphia Experiment was another name of Project Rainbow .

Linda Thorne said...

Thank you, Mehedi Hasan for stopping by and for this information. I watched the movie, The Philadelphia Experiment many times.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Lots of good ideas here about setting as character.

Linda Thorne said...

Hope the fire does not get your home, Marilyn. Thanks for stopping by.