Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Setting as a Character

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I'm a storyworld-first author, as opposed to a plot-first or character-first one. So I tend to talk a lot about storyworlds. As I've been working on a new project and building up my world, I got to thinking that this time around, the storyworld really seems to have its own personality. That got me thinking that the setting has a lot of the same characteristics as a character does. Let's take a look at what each need.

Characters Need
1. Backstory
2. Internal and external motivations
3. A story goal
4. Opposition
5. To believe a lie
6. For things to get uncomfortable in the story so they can ...
7. Change or experience growth during the course of the story

Storyworld Needs
1. Culture (Which includes a level of technological advancement, ethnic groups, religions, governments, way of life, etc.)
2. Land (Which includes terrain, cities and towns, major landmarks or buildings, etc. And maybe a map too.)
3. Environmental factors (Like weather, animals, disease, resources.)
4. History (Include a political backstory, wars, and other major world events.)
5. A threat to some part of the world (Which can often be the same, or related to, the threat that the character is experiencing.)

1. Both need a backstory or history.  To have a past is to have experienced good and bad things in life. These things add realism to your character or world.

2. Both need an opposition or threat and sometimes they are threats to each other. Even if you're writing a romance about a teacher and a carpenter, oppositions and threats to your storyworld can be a good thing. The storyworld in a contemporary tale is simply the world your characters live in. Some examples of opposition or threats in such a world might be: a snowstorm that keeps your hero from reaching his destination, a business closing and laying off all its employees, a teacher who picks on the main character's child, a cruel landlord who wants to evict your hero, a school that expels your football star, things like that.

3. Both need to change in some way. And maybe your story isn't going to have a happy ending, but it should still satisfy the reader. In the end of the struggle, the character and his world should have changed in some way.

A great example of a character and a setting working beautifully together is in the book City of Ember. The city is running out of resources and so are the people who live there. So Lina must figure out how to leave the city before its too late. Both Lina and the city have a history. They both face the same threat. And they both change in some way, though it's not the same way.

Take some time to think about your storyword. Does it threaten your character in some way during the course of the story? If not, think of a way that it might. Does it change? How?


  1. In my current novel I am writing the world is changing my character, but... I don't think my story world is changing..
    Thanks for the post! This will be helpful.

  2. Excellent post! Thanks for breaking down all the aspects of a storyworld and showing how it is like a character. Makes setting seem a lot easier :)
    In my novel, my protagonist lives in an America filled with a deadly disease. Millions are dying, and when they die, the bodies are cast into the ocean, so there's no going out (without falling ill yourself, at least.) Because of this, our army is too weak to defend against attack, and that is exactly what is happening--war. So my protagonist is kind of against her story world in a way that she has to fix it.

    1. From Amo Libros:
      Ooh, sounds like Rome in the Late Empire! (Sorry, I'm studying for an exam.) That sounds really neat, though! I'm wondering how she's going to fix it...

    2. That does sound neat, Anastasia! Good conflict.

  3. Wow. I can honestly say I've never thought of my storyworld as a character. This is something I'm really going to need to consider, especially when I start editing my current project. Does my storyworld change? Yes. Do my characters change? Yes. Do they influence each other's change? I think so...but that's the part I guess I need to work on the most. :)

    1. The editing process is my favorite, Amanda. I love making the story stronger and stronger.

  4. That's cool... I never really thought about that before. I have, however, built extensive storyworlds, and bored my siblings to death talking about them. Maybe I should zip it every once in a while. :P But the world changing... that would help. It wouldn't sound so much like a history book then, maybe even sound a bit like a novel.

    Now I want to go back and start writing about the Nitarks again! I thought the story was dead, I was going to give up on it.... but NO. And now the only person who liked the idea won't be mad at me anymore. (She /really/ wanted me to write it)

    1. *Two people who liked it. :)

    2. Aww, no story is ever dead, I don't think. Sometimes you do need a good long break, though, before you can come back and fix it up.

  5. Awesome Jill, thanks so much! :D

  6. This is great, Jill! Just what I needed today for developing my newest idea (very first dystopian- Yay!). Thanks so much!

  7. Cool!!
    Ha ha!! Usually with me I start with a plot and expand on it from there. I really need to work on setting though so this helps.

  8. You're welcome, guys! I'm glad it was helpful. :-)