In some novels, the setting works only as a backdrop, a starting-off point, but in others, the setting brings the story to life.
I can still remember the pervasive, dark heaviness of the jungle throughout the entirety of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The impassiveness and mystery of the jungle makes the characters jumpy and also reflects Kurtz’s descent into madness.
James Dashner’s Maze Runner uses his setting, the Glade, both as an antagonist and as a puzzle to find out why the boys are there. The mystery of the Glade itself helps build the tone of the book.
In JK Rowling‘s Harry Potter series, the grounds and buildings at Hogwarts School play a pivotal role in almost every book in the series. The secrets of the castle — and who is in possession of those secrets — build, one upon the other, from Book 1 all the way through Book 7, though I won’t spoil the how. We know from our first steps inside the castle that it will be important to the story:
The entrance hall was so big you could have fit the whole of the Dursleys’ house in it. The stone walls were lit with flaming torches like the ones at Gringotts, the ceiling was too high to make out, and a magnificent marble staircase facing them led to the upper floors.
What can we as writers take from these examples? In each of these books, the author deftly weaves the setting into the plot so that the story could not happen without the place it’s set in. Each of these stories would be dramatically different if they were set in different locations. Imagine Heart of Darkness in Paris or Harry Potter in Kansas — completely different.
Is your setting integral to the plot? Does your story change dramatically if you change the location? Why have you chosen a certain place (or places) to be your main setting? How does your setting give depth to your story? Each of these questions can give you another way to look at your setting and how to adjust it or change it entirely.
What’s your take on settings?
P.S. Check out an alternate take on the same topic here.