Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday's Focus: Setting, Weather, and Characters

When most of us begin writing a story, we usually concentrate on our plot and our characters. Making sure all the elements of plot are there, and that we are sure our characterizations are consistent with who and what those characters are supposed to be, or represent.

But our characters respond...or more than the plot elements we've laid out for them, such as goals, motivations, conflicts, crises, and so on. What about the setting your characters are in? It doesn't have to be historical fiction for you to be knowledgeable about the geographical location, the towns/cities, the clothing worn, the jobs/careers, the schools, the food, the transportation, the electronics or lack thereof, and all of the other everyday elements we humans are surrounded with that your characters are also going to be surrounded with.

Let's say your MC is a 16 year old girl in high school. What kind of school is it: big, small, old construction, new construction, brick, wooden, etc. Does she walk carefully up a rickity old staircase, or run up concrete steps? Does she live in a big city with tall skyscrapers that she doesn't know her way around in, or a small town where she knows every street by heart, and most all the people? Does she wear old jeans, sweatshirts, and boots because she lives on a farm and that's all she has, or does she wear designer jeans, expensive sweaters and brand name shoes because she goes to a prestigious school and that's what is expected? Or maybe she wears the old beat-up jeans and boots TO that prestigious school because that's all she has, and suffers ridicule because of it.

Your characters react and respond to the setting in which you place them, so be sure that you know as much about that setting as you do about your characters. You don't have to use everything you learn, but you should know enough to know how your characters realistically respond and act/react within that setting.

Weather is another part of story writing that a lot of writers dismiss. Or, they use it in a cliched manner. How many times have you read something to the effect of: The tears running down her face coincided with the rain peppering the window pane, and her heart felt as broken as the jagged slashes of lightening. Or: They huddled together behind the hay bales, trapped by the raging snow storm and the would-be killer outside.

It seems that we gotten accustomed to using the weather to reflect our characters' moods, to the point that it has all become a giant cliche'. Have you ever thought about doing just the opposite of what the weather seems to inspire? For example:
She stood at the window, glaring down at her younger sister playing with her friends. How dare they be so happy and lighthearted, how dare the sun be so bright, the sky so blue, when her heart was breaking and the tears were racing down her face? Or: He opened the door, already relishing  the black clouds that precipitated the coming storm, and the cover those clouds would give him. Imagine his surprise when he was confronted with bright moonlight and clear skies, a situation clearly not conducive to the evil he planned that night.

In other words, we use the weather to change and possibly confuse the circumstances we've put our characters in. We use it to showcase the contradictory nature between what our character is feeling and how she believes
the weather should be to confirm those emotions. We take the weather and we turn it into an element of surprise, both for our characters and for our readers.

Think about it.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. Yes, weather can get very cliche. You have to be very careful how you use it. No thunderstorms when it's a scary scene. Or sudden rain when your character is crying.

  2. Lots of good ideas here. It's so distracting when a setting is obviously wrong because the author didn't bother to learn the details of a particular place or invent a complete and consistent building/town/world.

  3. Horror stories that take place during the day in a normal, every-day location are the scariest because that makes them seem real. Nice post, Mom!