How have you been liking the guest posts so far? Pretty interesting if I do say so myself! Next up, we have one of my very good friends and fellow blogger Crimson! Crim, who is a new blogger over at Moonlight Gleam's Bookshelf, also happens to be an aspiring author. I asked her the same question, but also said she could do it about general writing, not just a specific novel. She, of course, took this question and ran with it incorporating both writing in multiple novels and writing itself. It is a really intriguing post and I hope you guys love it as much as I do!
How does setting affect tone/feel/direction etc. of a novel?
Thank you, Crimson! Very well thought out and detailed! Hope it got everyone thinking about the importance of setting!Setting is one of the most important elements of a good novel. It sets the tone and it influences how characters interact with each other. And, in fact, with the setting itself.Think of it this way--setting is a character unto itself. And just as all good characters need to be fully fleshed out and made three dimensional, so does the setting.We don’t live in a Paper Mario world. We get tripped up by construction, blown away by horrible Canadian winters or tropical storms, and navigate our way through frustratingly busy cities or frustratingly empty countryside.And so should characters.One of my favourite classics is Emily Bronte’s Gothic novel Wuthering Heights. I mean, sure, you’ve got the weirdly enticing and utterly terrifying Heathcliff, but I don’t think Heathcliff would be half as powerful (as a general character) without the isolated, dangerous moors in which the novel is set. The moors set the tone for Heathcliff’s character. The moors are cold, the moors are dark. The moors are strangely alluring, yet forbidding and dangerous and unknown. If you’ve read the novel, you’ll know that that description of the moors is pretty much synonymous for “Heathcliff.”Not to spoil the book for anyone who hasn’t read it, but Heathcliff spends the majority of the book trying to (and succeeding in) keeping two households of family friends separated. Alone. Cut off.There was this one moment while I was reading when I realize these two estates where only about 5 kilometers apart from each other, and I went, “Wait, what?” Because these characters were acting like they were never going to see each other again! Sure, a part of this is attributed to being set in the early nineteenth century, where there is a distinct lack of cars. But would this novel had have that same effect, that same element of complete isolation from only 5 kilometers away, if Wuthering Heights had been set in the city? Hardly.Okay, but that’s a classic Gothic novel. What about some more contemporary ones? How about some fantasy? Can you imagine what a bore Lord of the Rings would be if they could simply walk into Mordor? Half the adventure is watching Frodo brave the elements, fight strange creatures, and navigate unusual places. I won’t go into detail here because, despite having watched the extended versions of the movies countless times, I can still barely remember the names of any places. I’m terrible like that. But I’ll still point out a couple examples. How about when Frodo and Sam meet Gollum and they have to trust him to bring them places? Or in the first movie when the Fellowship is trying to get up the mountain and then Saruman is all like, “I don’t think so,” and there’s a huge blizzard, so they have to find a new way? Or the Ents, who are, quite literally, both a setting and characters.Obviously, setting is really important to fantasy novels. You simply cannot have a fantasy novel without having a good setting. Or dystopian, for that matter.I think the first novel I read when I was younger that didn’t have a contemporary/realistic setting was Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. People, this is one of my favourite series. Prior to reading it, I had gone through a couple years where, despite being a huge reader as a kid, I kind of didn’t read anything. (Except Harry Potter because, hey, it’s Harry Potter). But I was immediately sucked into the world of Uglies. It was just so enticing. Cool technology! Sketchy surgeries! Oh the fun to be had! I love how detailed and well-thought out the world of Uglies is. From magnetic grids beneath the ground for using hoverboards, to the segregation of different “classes” of people based on their ages and whether they’re a “pretty” or an “ugly.”Uglies would not be the novel it is without that setting. It wouldn’t be able to send the message it does about society and appearance if not for the setting. A lot of the time, dystopian novels are used to send a message about a certain element of society (The Hunger Games, anyone?). Giving a novel a futuristic dystopian setting creates a distance between the reader and the issue the novel talks about, and that distance allows us to look at the issue with fresh eyes (we can never look at things clearly when we’re too close to them).(Er, not that you should be shoving a message down the reader’s throat if you’re writing a novel. Absolutely not. No, no, no. But you’re writing a novel. Say something.)But I digress.Back to setting.And don’t think contemporary/realistic books get a free pass on setting. Sure, sometimes it might be a little less important, but it’ll still influence how people interact. If you live in a rural setting, or even in the suburbs, you’re not going to travel around in the same way a city kid is. And think about little things--the pristine blanket whiteness of snow in the countryside; the grimy grayness of snow alongside busy city streets. And the obvious one--think about how often authors utilize raininess to reflect a character’s mood. It’s a cliche because it works.There are a lot of contemporary novels out there that would be completely different books if they had a different setting. The haunting town in Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls, the boarding school in John Green’s Looking for Alaska, the boarding school (again) in Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road.So the next time you’re reading a novel (and especially if you’re writing one) think about how the setting effects the characters and the plot, and the sometimes highly metaphorical way setting reflects the characters and the plot. It might just change the way you read.
Check out all the books Crimson mentioned below! (Links to Goodreads)
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
- Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
- Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
- Looking for Alaska by John Green
- Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Make sure to stop by tomorrow for a very special guest post from an amazing author!
- Ciara (Lost at Midnight)