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?