August 16, 2012

Of Course It's a Character

Martin Johnson Heade, Lynn Meadows, Mass., c. 1871-75 (via)

It's such a cliche ~ setting is a character in a novel. You hear people say about novels they love, "I just loved the background. It was it's own character."

But it's a cliche because it is true.  I've been thinking more and more about how we do not live our lives in a vacuum.  We may live largely inside our heads and ignore things around us, but our surroundings are very much there, very much interacting with us and influencing all aspects of our lives.

So of course setting is a character.  Characters are the actors in the story, and setting surely should be one of those actors.

That's why dismissing a writer as "a regionalist" is wrong.  All fiction is regional if you're doing it right.  It should take place in a very specific time and place because it makes a difference if you're in eighteenth century France near Bordeaux or nineteenth century Africa in what would become South Africa or twentieth century America near Lake Michigan.

So, is that character hostile? Inviting?  Sensual?  Spiteful?  Comfortable? Austere?  Is it your tipsy old aunt or you cruel second-grade teacher? Flesh her out.  Let us feel-hear-smell-taste-touch her.

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