Turning Setting into Character

I try to use all of my senses when describing a setting, and try to think of everything that would impact a character in any given scene. ~Mercedes Lackey, fantasy author

One of my readers sent these lines for transforming “setting into character” help. Here’s her setting description:

Take 1
Sunlight clipped the tops of the trees, bathing the mountains in gold. Wade eyed the scene but failed to be impressed. The darkness from last night remained in his heart.

Pretty words. Active verbs. Not enough description to force a skimmer to skim. Nice wilderness set. But does the setting assume character status here? No. The beautiful morning is just a backdrop for the character to stand in front of rather than struggle against. Let’s see if we can’t milk this setting.

Take 2
Sunlight clipped the tree tops and bathed the mountains in gold, but darkness remained in Wade’s heart.

Same pretty words. Same active verbs. But now the morning is a force for Wade to reckon with. Nature cannot brighten Wade’s mood, despite pulling out some of its best tricks (clipping tree tops and bathing rocks in gold).

Give the setting a goal (like making someone feel better or making someone’s life miserable) and then, make it impossible for the setting to reach that goal. The same way we use conflict to personify our characters is the same way to use conflict to personify the setting.

Does your set have stairs? Don’t just describe them. Make the stairs a source of struggle, a mountain that must be climbed when your character’s had such a bad day they can barely put one foot in front of the other. Or make the stairs a source of joy, a passage to a secret haven for your character.

Send me some more setting examples and we’ll see if we can’t turn them into characters.

Please forgive me if I don’t get right back to you. My son is getting married in a few weeks and there is much to do, but I’ll answer you as soon as I can.

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About lynnegentry

Wife. Mother. Writer. Acting Coach. Director of Dallas International Performing Arts Academy.
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5 Responses to Turning Setting into Character

  1. Another great post, Lynne!

    You asked for some setting examples, so here goes. I have a character upset with her day. She comes home, takes a shower, tosses her used washcloth over the shower rod, and steps on the cold tile floor. As she takes her first step, the wet washcloth plops on top of her head.

    Any ideas? 😀

    Congratulations on your son’s marriage!

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  3. Insurance says:

    Thanks for all the wonderful information I really enjoyed it !

  4. Jane Thornton says:

    Great ideas, Lynne. I don’t usually consciously think of my setting as a character – even though I’ve heard it before. This gives me someting concrete to see and use. Thanks!

  5. Julie Marx says:

    An example to evaluate. (“Vetis” is the male villain who just got blown up; “she” is the protagonist set free from his dominion)

    Vétis was dead. Lightning slashed through the sky, as if accentuating such a noble undoing. Thunder applauded like a resounding timpani.
    Live or die? She now had to choose.

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