Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Setting as character

I've been thinking about setting, this week. In Romance, setting is vital. Mills and Boon talk about setting in their guidelines for the various lines. The Modern Heat guidelines, for example state the books should be set within a chic, glamorous, and usually urban setting. And the Modern guidelines state that: Readers are whisked away to exclusive jet-set locations to experience smouldering intensity and red-hot desire.
Other lines are not quite as specific, but it is worth noting if writing either a Modern or a Modern Heat that this is what the editors are looking for. The location is just as much part of the story as the characters, and they state that clearly.
But what I'm writing about today is using setting as character. Once you have your ideal location picked, each scene can reveal something new, something that brings the story to life. Breathe atmosphere into the scene, and use the setting to reveal something new, that the story hasn't touched on.
Okay, an example. Sherlock Holmes. The wonderfully atmospheric backdrop of foggy London brings a darkness, a lurking menace. As does Hogwarts in Harry Potter, the weather is often stormy and the sky dark, especially in the scenes where the characters are in trouble. It foreshadows the drama to come. Also in scenes the setting can be used to great dramatic effect when it contrasts with the action. Think of a beautiful summer day, and the shock of a dead body suddenly come upon. Or a heroine in love, in the bright sunshine of a garden, and the effect suddenly coming across her lover with another might wreak.
Hmm. Back to writing!


  1. Great post, Sally, and absolutely right. Setting is almost like another character isn't it?

    I must admit, I can get a tiny bit distracted when researching settings. I spent literally hours looking at posh rooms in hotels for my h & H to get married in!

  2. I'm a setting snob. Despite knowing how important it is I avoid it because I'd much rather play with dialogue. So, it always has to be added in later :D

  3. Fantastic post, Sally. I tend to forget about this aspect, so great to have the reminder.


  4. I love love love this. I just did a quick tally of favorite books in my head, and most of them take place in settings that are as rich and developed as the characters. JK Rowling was a perfect example. Who didn't want to go to Hogwarts after reading Harry Potter? As crazy as it sounds, I could swear I know what butterbeer tastes like, even though it doesn't exist. What a fantastic post. Thanks a lot!

    (PS, if this is a double post, I apologize. I'm having a mother of a time getting Blogger to accept my OpenID today.)

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone. And welcome alohajinky!