April 9, 2014

The Forgotten Character – Setting

By Marian Merritt

Think about the books you've read that have stayed with you—they probably had great characters, but I'd venture to say they brought you to a place you'd never been and made you feel that you'd been there when you finished.

Grounding your character in the setting does this, but bringing the setting to life does much more. I'm not talking about line after line of description. That's a sure way to lose your readers.

Showing the love/hatred of the setting (land, house, town, culture, etc.) through the character's eyes and using the setting to draw the reader.

For example:

Moss hung from the branches of the tall oaks.


The stately oaks extended their branches in greeting, welcoming her home to a place she'd long abandoned. The thick clumps of moss waved as though to say, "hello, we've missed you."

It's giving human qualities to parts of the setting so the reader can imagine the setting more clearly. The technique is called personification or anthropomorphism.

Here are a few examples of personification. Notice how the reader gains a deeper view of what the writer is trying to say.

The flowers were wilted                                   The flowers begged for water
The sun emerged from behind the clouds        The sun peeked from behind the clouds
The trees were on fire                                      The fire swallowed the trees
Lightning broke the evening sky                      Lightning danced across the evening sky

Use judiciously so as to make the greatest impact when used.

As a writer whose stories are set in the south, it's important that readers who have never ventured below the Mason-Dixon line get to experience the area through my stories. I feel I've accomplished my goal when a reader says, "It feels like I've been there." Or "I want to go there."

Another important factor is bringing in all five senses—If you're writing a story set in the deep South, let your readers experience the sticky feel of ninety-percent humidity, see the Technicolor green of the lush trees and plants, the earthy taste of ground sassafras blended in a steaming bowl of Seafood gumbo, hear the deafening chorus of frog, crickets, and cicadas on a quiet summer night and smell the rich aroma of the earth after a torrential rain.

There are unique features to all settings. Dig deep to find them and bring them to life through personification and the use of the senses in your stories.
Marian Pellegrin Merritt writes stories that blend her love of the mountains with her deep Southern roots. She is an author and freelance writer with over ten years experience. Her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and online websites and garnered a first place award in ACFW's Genesis contest. Marian is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Women's Fiction Writers Association. Her first fiction title, Southern Fried Christmas, released in 2012.  She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy and an accounting certificate from the University of South Alabama. This Louisiana native writes from the Northwest Colorado home she shares with her husband and a very spoiled Labradoodle. Connect with her through Website, Blog, Facebook, Twitter Her books, The Vigil and Deep Freeze Christmas will be releasing from Pelican Book Group later this year.

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