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Besides giving us place to act out a scene, a setting can add other elements as well.
Some places have memories. I can’t drive by the local grocery store by my family home without remembering that a hospital once was there. The place I was born. The place I played after it was demolished.
It carries feelings that have never gone away. Your characters can carry attachments too. They go to a park, swimming hole, elementary school, etc. and become overwhelmed or flashback into their past. It’s not a choice.
They remember their first kiss or their one and only marriage proposal. They remember saying goodbye to an old friend and watching them walk away forever. The place their child was born. Or the last time they went skinny dipping.
Mood or Atmosphere:
Mood could be based on the protagonist’s memories or it could be as simple as weather or a social function that sets the mood or atmosphere.
Thunderstorms set a mood: it was a dark and stormy night. And a sunny day at the beach also give us a sense of wholesome fun. Until the water rises and the little kid making the sand castle at the water’s edge can’t be found anywhere.
Family barbecue is one feeling, and a funeral is another. A group gathered around a phone waiting for a call—kidnapper, job offer, or dream date.
Things to consider when planning a scene.
People are not the only antagonists on the page. A disaster could stop them from achieving their goal. To save a life, they need to cross a washed-out bridge, or fix a tire without a tire iron. A blizzard could stop them from chasing after someone—villain or soul mate.
Not only stopping the hero, but also cutting them off from help. There is no rescue or police to investigate. The hero is on their own.
Whatever the circumstance it could increase the stakes.
Smells, sights, sounds, tastes, textures, internal feelings, space, time and the unknown should all be considered. Reactions to these specific details can be more powerful than any vivid description of setting, and characters.
It’s all about reaction. Is it the history of the place? Is it the mood that always seems to hang over it like a cloud of doom? Or is it a physical problem like a washed out river. Any of these elements could be a contributing factor as a scene plays out?
No matter where you start, consider the setting.
What does your setting do for your story?
Have any techniques that help connect your characters to their setting? Please share. I’d love to read them. 🙂