Wednesday, October 6, 2010

All The Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues

The ever popular “they” say that setting is a very important part of a story. It affects character definitely, and usually plot. The world that your characters develop in is a fairly significant aspect of a novel. For instance, in my current work in progress takes place in the area surrounding Dallas, Texas. It is hot and dry most of the time. All of the characters in this story (except one, but he’s dead so it doesn’t matter that much) grew up there and know the area well, though I have been there myself. It’s in the southern part of America, so my characters have accents, though I never explicitly say so, nor do I write the dialogue with the accent. It’s implied because I do say the area in which they live. The whole Texas culture lends itself to the characters and the story. Most of the story takes place in present day, so the racism and stuff like that is not included. I try to avoid that kind of stuff anyway. However, part of the story takes place in the 1970’s, so that was a little trickier to write. I do know a few people who used to live there, and I have done my research, so I’m sure I got all the eccentricities right.

There’s more to setting than time and place, though. Even specific things, like the characters’ homes defines them. A few of my characters, for example, the main one, Otis, are not very wealthy. Otis is a man of about 25. He’s somewhat of a contractor, so he lives job by job and doesn’t have a great salary. Therefore, he shares a ratty apartment with two of his friends. This setting is grimy and small; the apartment defines Otis, but Otis defines the apartment as well. His income prevents him from decorating it very well. Marge and Al, however, are married, in their sixties, and very wealthy. They live in practically a mansion. Their setting defines them just as much, but I won’t get into the details.

Even more specific of a setting is the character’s situation, the things in their life they can’t control. Another one of my characters, Richard, grew up in foster care in the 1970’s in Texas. This situation defined who he is as a person in that he was surrounded by children who did not have a stable family, and in some cases, didn’t have a family at all. However, Richard was adopted and had great parents. Since he himself was raised wonderfully, he turned out fine, but since he witnessed the abuse of other children, he grew up wanting to help them. That is just an example of how situational setting develops character.

So there you have it, writer friends. Setting has a much bigger job than just serving as a backdrop for your characters to live in front of. It defines the characters’ ambitions, opinions, and opportunities, and shouldn’t be forgotten.

Peace, Aimee

3 comments:

  1. Visiting another country with your characters is challenging. Even when you have visited your location choice, it gives the feeling of timidity, not wanting to "upset the locals" by not getting things right. The sources for a voyeuristic visit (Google Earth, Street maps, location websites (hotels, restaurants, museums with virtual tours), gives the ability to express locational awareness like you are there.

    The sticky part is customs, social morays and politics. From afar, it is hard not to present a two dimensional opinion, having not "lived it". Places are lived in, the living is done people. Without intense interaction with locals, it is impossible to give the mental conditions and opinions justice that will stand the test of their opinions.

    But this is fiction, right? You can solve many issues by saying a chronic social problem was solved, thereby giving credence to any characters acts or opinions.My next novel takes place on the island of Madeira off the coast of Morocco. I did some much "afar research", that now I long to visit and stay a the Reid Palace Hotel... Maybe I should see if they want me to re-write their web page? My editor wants to go there based on my story! Lol

    Keep up the great work!

    DougM

    P.S. Daddy issues in Texas is spot on. I live in New Mexico, so I hear it all the time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, you explained that better than I did! I made up a couple places, like bars and hotels and the name of a bridge, but otherwise, Texas in my story looks like Texas in real life. And all my characters have Daddy issues, or other family problems, so it looks like I chose the right place! Good luck writing about Morocco!

    ReplyDelete