9a. Settings Part One: mood, atmosphere, character development and foreshadowing

It's time to take a closer look at settings.

It's important to remember that settings aren't simply a stage for your puppets to walk about on - each setting is an opportunity to:
  • build mood and atmosphere
  • develop character
  • foreshadow plot points


Building mood and atmosphere with settings

The house could gleam brightly with a fresh coat of whitewash; have aging, peeling, lead-heavy paint; or give the impression of a gaping skull with sightless windows as eyes and a door forever closing its mute mouth. The sea could roll heavily, recline in reflective tranquillity or froth with lively white horses.

If you're trying to build a sombre mood, make sure the park isn't filled with cheery colours, just because that's what was there the last time you went to the park. Make sure every word of description supports whatever mood or atmosphere you are trying to build in that scene.


Developing character with settings

How do your characters respond to their surroundings? This can give the reader a lot of information about your character without you having to say it outright.

For example, one character stuck overnight in a forest will build a bivouac, take a few slugs of whiskey and settle down with their heavy boots up on a stump. Another character might collapse into a weeping huddle, hysterically swatting at the creepy crawlies.

Of course it can be much more subtle than that - as much as what they notice and don't notice, what they touch, how they move around the area.


Foreshadowing plot points with settings

Every element of the settings you describe should be relevant, and have a justification for its inclusion.
For example, if you're describing someone's bedroom, not only should every item accurately reflect their character (see above), but it should also be relevant to this particular story. If they're going to reach for that bag of marbles to knock out the intruder in chapter 9, it'll be that much more satisfying if you mentioned them in passing in chapter 2.

The photographs in your characters house and room are an excellent opportunity to expose their character and history - just try not to get too heavy handed about it.

Read more about developing settings here.