How important is the setting you choose for your story and characters? The short answer? Critical!
In cinema where locations come alive, as much as in novels, your choice of setting is a potent tool in supercharging your storytelling. To illustrate this, let’s draw inspiration from the brilliant location choices of Anna Karenina, All the Pretty Horses, and The Last Voyage of the Demeter as proof of how choosing the right setting can make or break your story.
Anna Karenina: Russia’s Snowy Embrace as a Character
In Anna Karenina, the brilliant Leo Tolstoy turns snowy Russia into a character as compelling as any protagonist. In this classic tale, a snowstorm isn’t just a backdrop. It is a dynamic force that shapes the characters’ choices and actions. The sensation of being inside this world, adds depth and realism to the story. As writers, we should learn to do no less.
All the Pretty Horses: The Southwestern Borderlands as a Plot Driver
In Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, the Southwestern borderlands setting is far from coincidental. It reflects the pivotal conflict of the story, where the disappearing cowboy way of life forces the protagonist on a journey into Mexico. The arid and desolate Southwest is not just a backdrop but a character in its own right, emphasising the intimate connection between setting and plot. As storytellers, we must recognise that the place we choose can be as crucial as any character in our narrative.
The Last Voyage of the Demeter: Tempests and Confined spaces
The Last Voyage of the Demeter is a tale that emerges out of the intricate threads of Count Dracula’s legend. The story’s significance lies not only in the eerie confines of the doomed ship but also in the relentless force of the storm that envelopes it. As the Demeter sails from Varna to Whitby, the tempest mirrors the mounting dread of the crew, accentuating the horror that lurks in the cargo hold below. The setting, a claustrophobic ship with dwindling resources on a tempestuous sea, becomes a pressure cooker of dread and paranoia. The link between setting and weather in this tale showcases how, when skillfully exploited, a surrounding can become a character in itself, breathing life into the story, shaping the characters‘ actions and emotions, and influencing the tone.
“Respect the setting and weather as you do the characters in your story. Your tales will be the more vivid for it!”
As writers, we should always ask which setting(s) will have the most impact on our story. If the answer is: “I’m not sure”, or, “very little”, it is be time to reassess. The characters in Anna Karenina, All the Pretty Horses, and The Last Voyage of the Demeter, don’t merely exist in their surroundings, they are an organic part of them.
Setting and weather are not just backdrops; they are active participants in the story. Embrace both, let them shape your characters and plot, and watch as your stories roar to life.