Readers look to novels to escape reality. An author’s words take them to distant lands. But a well-described location can do more than just take the reader on a trip away from home. It plays an important role in creating atmosphere and describing characters. The strength of location in a story transforms the setting into another character. Characters and setting rely heavily on one another not only to create images in the minds of readers, but also to describe each other.
A character reveals information about a setting. Their traits lead them to specific towns, cities, bars, schools, etc. A well-developed character personality can create the milieu.
An uptight individual probably lives in a very neat and organized apartment. A character concerned with the environment might have a vegetable garden planted in the back with a recycling bin and compost heap. A young, single girl might feel stuck in family-oriented suburbia.
Now, the same can be said about the location of a story. In the beginning before we meet the characters, one technique of opening a story is to describe the setting. What does it look like? What do you hear? What does it smell like? Are the streets littered with trash, left over food and medicine bottles?
If the character is a child, what impact does low-income environment have on their personality and goals in life compared to a child living in the same city in a penthouse apartment with a doorman?
Is your character in a foreign land where they can't speak the language? An adventurous person willing to do anything to get away from their normal life, perhaps.
As a mystery writer, profiling a suspect determining how the investigator will find them.
Do you characters undergo a change through the story? If so, a subtle way to accomplish this would be through their living space: neat to sloppy, juvenile to mature, etc.
No matter who the character is the setting plays an important role in creating the story world. Each one reveals something about the other. Together they create a more realistic and engaging story for readers.
What does the setting of your story reveal about your characters?