22 April 2013

Set the Scene

In some books or films, the setting is so integral to the story that it feels like one of the characters. If the setting changed, the story would change.

As I thought about this an old Robert Redford film came to mind, (sorry but I can't remember the name). It's a cowboy film, and throughout the film the scenery is harsh desert giving a feeling of searing heat, and a decided lack of life.

In several of Daphne du Maurier's books setting plays an important role. Think of the gloomy threatening inn on Bodmin Moor (Jamaica Inn), and of the oppressive house, Manderley, in Rebecca. 

Heathcliffe is as wild as the Moors surrounding him. 

Lives Interrupted (for me) couldn't be set anywhere else but London. Kate has dreamed of living in London through her teenage years, and we see the city through her excited perspective. Whether it's the dingy arrivals area at Heathrow or the gloomy tube stations, she sees everything as new and exciting. Even having her bag stolen doesn't change her delight at living her dream. After the bombings, she views London in a very different way as she attempts to get back something of the person she was before.

My current book, Lies of the Dead, is set in a Cornish village called Poldrayth. The village is fictional, but based on a real place. The three main characters are two brothers and a sister. Tom, the older brother, is the only sibling who still lives in the village, and it has a strong influence on his character. He is steady, reliable and always there, just like the village. It has been the family home for generations, and Tom can't imagine living anywhere else. However, when his life is threatened there, it changes his view of the village.

The importance of place doesn't have to (and shouldn't) mean long paragraphs of description. The setting is seen through the characters, and affects their actions and the way they view the world. It makes them who they are. Someone who makes quick, rash decisions will view their surroundings differently to someone who is slower and methodical. A couple in love would enjoy a walk in a secluded setting, that same setting at night would have a totally different feel for a nervous person on their own.

Knowing our characters, and how they will react to their surroundings can have a huge impact on our story, indeed it can make the story. The whole basis of the film Crocodile Dundee is having the two main characters spend time in a vastly different setting to their usual one, and seeing how they react.

What is the setting of your book? If you changed the setting would if change the story? You don't have to change the setting of the entire book, but if you changed the setting of an important scene would it make a difference? It might move your story in a totally different direction.

If you're having difficulty with a scene, change the setting and see where it takes you.  I'd be interested to know if you've tried this and how it worked for you.

No comments:

Post a Comment