The scenery around us often changes in subtle ways depending on our moods and particular outlook on any given day. A garden that once provided comfort might morph into a mockery of that feeling in a darker personal moment, its hedges shifting away from a sense of whimsy, tightening around you, trapping you into a life that hurts, offering no escape–that got dark rather quickly, but it’s gripping.
It’s gripping because it gives a window into the character’s psyche and their life. When a garden hedge shifts into such a menacing cage, you know the character is going through tough times.
Most novice writers don’t step far enough into a character’s mind for this shift. Often times, the setting is relayed in one paragraph as soon as the scene opens. It is relayed analytically: there is a chair; it was a Shaker piece, with a deep reddish-brown stain. Move on to the next piece of furniture in the setting and maybe also address the weather while you’re at it. There is nothing wrong with doing this a little bit. There are going to be times you are just going to want to tell a little bit about the scene.
In addition to using descriptions to set their scene, writers also use descriptions to craft atmosphere. This is particularly popular and often a must in genre pieces. Readers, after all, have come to expect scenery clues within certain genres. This is often a lot livelier than the more analytical variety mentioned above.
However, if you are writing in first person or a close third, diving in and allowing the character to shape their surroundings is invaluable to adding depth to your piece of fiction. It is also fun as an author to see the world you have created through your characters eyes.
In my sci-fi novel, Heritage Lost, my lead, Katya, has spent a decent chunk of her life in the military and served a chunk of time as a military police officer on a rough planet. She may have moved on from that position, but it definitely impacts the way she views the world around her. She tends to seek out potential problems everywhere she goes, which serves her well over the course of the book. That job as an MP has stuck with her and is almost ingrained in her DNA.
So, dive into your character’s mind. Think of how their life past up to present has impacted them. How would that affect how they view the world around them. It’s also worth exploring their moods and how those would affect their view of the world around them. There is so much room to play around with this; it just takes getting to know your character.
For homework, take a scene that is lackluster, and try to interweave setting that is flavored by your POV Character. You can still have some aspects that are more telling (Think: A chair had been set by the window) but try to keep it on the light side. Additionally, avoid the filter words (see, touch, hear, etc.) for something that truly sings.
Let your character speak through how they see the world.
3 thoughts on “Setting Through The Lens Of Character”
I loved going through one of my chapters and changing all the metaphors and descriptors to show that something that used to be friendly and welcoming was now fraught and dangerous.
It is fun to do! I did something similar during an “all is lost” moment.
It’s like a literary instagram-filter. 🙂