Creating complex characters that vivid helps to keep readers engaged. We all know this is true and important when writing. Few seem to realize that it’s also important to create an equally compelling setting. Your setting is your silent but potent final character in any book.
We build out characters with description, with secrets, with emotion, with history. So to must you take the opportunity to do this with your setting. These same attributes should be applied to the environment in which your characters unfold.
One easy way to do this is to link the setting details with emotions. What are your characters going through right in this moment? How would you describe the resultant emotions? Can you apply those descriptors to pieces of your setting? Yes. Yes you can.
Are your characters supposed to be content and happy? Use descriptors for your setting that reflect these emotions. At it’s most basic: The woods were serene. The sunlight drifted lazily through the gently rustling leaves. Are your characters supposed to be tense and frightened? Those same woods can now be dark, dense with trees. The sunlight can pierce through the agitated leaves of the trees. Give your setting a distinctive personality that complements the emotions you want your readers to be feeling.
Give your setting a past that influences how the characters will interact with it. Does the house have a history of ghosts, of being haunted? Is it reminiscent of an ancient, now forgotten age? Are there artefacts of a more advanced civilization laid to waste somehow? What emotion does the past evoke in the present for your characters? What secrets have you now created that lie in wait for your characters and audience to discover?
Another important question to ask yourself is how does your setting change over time? There should be an arc in the environment to help mark the passing of time, or of the development of a character arc. Does the forest start out lush and plentiful but become withered and empty as winter encroaches? Does the apartment in the beginning of the story reflect the stark and A type personality of your heroine and then turn into a well decorated home full of screaming kids and pets as they learn about themselves and fall into their happily ever after?
If you take the time to build your setting, it becomes something that your characters can interact with and will help you advance your plot and/or your characters. The environment sets the tone for your reader and will create something that lingers with them. It can become a place that readers want to explore, the type of place that possibly inspires fan fiction.
When you become stuck in your writing, remember your setting. You can build the setting by treating it like a character. Describe what it looks like in details linked to the emotion you want to invoke in your reader. Determine what obstacles it can create that your characters will need to overcome, or secrets that they will need to uncover. Decide if your setting needs to change to reflect the time which has passed, the travel which has happened so that one corner of the world doesn’t look exactly like the other, to reflect the changes in your character. Developing your setting will make it a dynamic part of the story you’re trying to tell. Treating it like a character in your story will help you develop it.