I should tell you right of the bat that I’m beginning this blog post full of energy and excitement. Now, you may ask yourself what is so exciting about setting, and why on Earth would this silly, little writer be energized by it?
Ah well, I’ll tell you anyways. 😉 I’m excited because I found a neighborhood riddled with inconsistencies and character.
Character? What does character have to do with setting?
Oh, oh, oh, let me tell you. Everything! Setting makes all the difference in the world. Whether our world or another one far, far away. (Cue Star Wars music please :)) There are numerous cases in television, movies, and books where readers get the sense that the setting is the elusive extra chess piece on the board. The “character” pushing the events forward. Fantasy is one genre in particular that jumps to mind when discussing setting. Science Fiction another. Both of these genres would be sorely incomplete without unusual times and or places, and the influences each has over the characters involved. What would Harry Potter be without Hogwarts, or Katniss Everdeen without District 12 and the Capital?
A pop culture example of setting directly influencing or becoming a character is in Sex in the City. The women in that show would be dynamic – not always likable, I know, but still interesting to watch – in any major city, but what made their dialogue take shape, and what influenced their very core relationship struggles was the fact that they lived in New York City. An aggressive, competitive, and influential nexus where these women all strove to gain some sense of their own piece of the apple, a large piece, probably an enormous hunk when considering what the average Joe gets, but still something they could call their own.
Without New York City, Hogwarts, or the fractured districts of Panem, none of the stories above would have been the same. None of the characters would have been either, and that leads me to what I saw today.
I was walking in an area around my son’s high school, waiting while my son practiced soccer with his team, and I stumbled on an example of setting that lit my writer brain on fire. Seriously. I was walking down the road head ping-ponging back and forth trying to take it all in because I was so excited. (Must have looked hilarious to anyone who saw me, but oh well.) What got me so jazzed was an eclectic mix of old and new, suburban and rural, hippie and hunter, McMansion and hovel; all on the same street. It was the mother load.
Characters began taking shape as I looked at each house in turn, and situations immediately followed. I imagined traumas and triumphs, marriages and divorces, and changes galore. And each piece of inspiration owed itself to the time and place, not just of the street, but of the locale. I’ll be revisiting this street and after those visits, I’ll be posting more about Mother Load Boulevard, but for now take a moment and remember. Remember the last time you were brought alive by a walk down a single road. Can you picture it? If not, do this for yourself, do it for your future characters, but just do it.
It’s on a bunch of t-shirts, so how could it be bad advice? 🙂