Monday, January 18, 2021

How can a Setting Feel Like a Character?

I recently reviewed a book, Preparing to Write Settings That Feel Like Characters by J. Lenni Dorner. I want to share with you why I recommend this book to anyone who wants to create awesome settings.

At first, I was confused by the title, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Writers do character profiles for all the characters who influence the plot significantly, the main characters. They also do worldbuilding, but not necessarily as thoroughly as Dorner proposes in her book.

After reading this book, thinking about how I could apply it, and writing a review, I watched Despicable Me 3 for the fifth time this week and I saw the perfect example of a setting that feels like a character:  Freedonia.

Source:  - 
Marie Ayme - Senior Surfacing Artist

The first thing to notice is the archetype. This is a Mediterranean Village for sure and the colors, textures, and shapes make that clear.

A close inspection reveals just how complex this setting is, and just how much attention the writers paid to developing it.

Source: - Sebastien Camrrubi- Character Artist/Rigger

This image shows special customs and celebrations. The boys are offering cheese to the girls to invite them to enter an engagement. If a girl accepts your cheese, she agrees to marry you. You dance with one another and then your families meet to confirm the betrothal. Naturally, the outsiders are not aware of this custom and stumble upon it accidentally, crushing one boy's heart.

Why does this matter? Well, it affects the plot. This sets up the perfect conflict for the step-mother and her daughter. She convinces her to participate in a new experience, it ends poorly, then she has to make it better. The two characters bond over the experience and their arcs progress as a result! All because the setting was written like a character that influences the plot.

The attire of the villagers, and their overall look is consistent. It would be easy to spot someone who was not a native of the village because the setting has been clearly defined. The viewer has a set of expectations for anyone who is from this location.

Can you spot the outsiders?

Obviously those big round noses, are part of the setting and anyone with a different nose is not part of that world. The same goes for the neutral colored clothes in contrast to the bright blue and pink.

The details keep coming. 

Everywhere in the village, there are pigs. Automatically, the viewer recognizes that pigs are part of the setting and begins to expect to see them everywhere. In fact they find it satisfying each time they spot that unique quality about the town. Why are there pigs on the runway? Oh, there are pigs all over the village. Is that man holding a pig like a baby?

Seriously, this setting is a fantastic character. I can relate to it. I want to learn more about it. I want to see what happens next! I could watch a whole movie just about this village.

So if you are looking for a good example of a setting that feels like a character, check out this movie. If you need an example in book form, I recommend off the top of my head the market on the other side of Wall in Stardust, by Neil Gaiman, or perhaps the desert sietch of Dune, by Frank Herbert. 

If you want to try creating your own, check out the book. It's a super quick read and extremely affordable! (Seriously, I had more than enough credit in my Kindle account from using no rush shipping.)

What are your favorite settings that feel like characters? Tell me below.

1 comment:

  1. Good point about the setting in that movie. I did notice all of the pigs.
    J. Lenni knows his stuff!