SETTING OR LANDSCAPE AS A CHARACTER by Nancy A Niles

I just finished reading an interview of Bryan Gruley, author of Starvation Lake and I found something he said to be of great interest.   Speaking of his novel he said:  “He sees the town of Starvation Lake as a character.”

That got me to thinking about the books of James Lee Burke and David Fulmer.  Their settings are drawn like characterizations.  They have a history, they are complex and contradictory just like some of the great people characters that have been written.

I have seen authors use landscape to tell the reader what is on the main characters mind.  For instance, if the main character is morose and everything looks dirty and dark and then the character falls in love.  He sees the same setting, but now notices a beautiful red rose peeking through a cracked sidewalk.  That added awareness of a bit of beauty amongst ruin reflects back on changes that the character is going through.

I have seen landscape used to build a mood.  Such as, bringing in fog, or thunderstorms to create extra suspense in a horror novel.

I have seen landscape used as the antagonist in such stories as Lost In The Wild.  Even though the landscape was presented as the enemy and a fearsome force, I still never thought of landscape as a character.

Now rereading some of my favorite novels I can see how landscape, or setting could be drawn as a character.  Not only in the history of the buildings, but in the activities that take place and the people who visit such places.  I can also see characterization in the different parts of the city, the mindset that is present in different places, the opportunities, or lack thereof and how it affects the people living there.

I see every day how a place can change a person, thus, the marketing strategy for Las Vegas:  What Happens Here Stays Here.  I see people who are probably very quiet turn into the complete opposite when they visit Vegas.  Just like I see people act differently when they are around an outgoing person as compared to being around a quiet, critical personality.

Landscape, or setting as a character.  It makes me want to recreate the landscape of Vegas.  After all, Las Vegas is portrayed as Sin City, with glitz and neon.  But there is quite a bit of history here and even a fair number of ghosts.  What books have you read where the landscape became a character unto itself ?

Nancy A. Niles is the Author Of Vendetta: a Deadly Win and Lethal Echoes.

4 Comments

Filed under books, fiction, fun, writing

4 responses to “SETTING OR LANDSCAPE AS A CHARACTER by Nancy A Niles

  1. christinehusom

    I’ve thought of the elements–blizzards, dust storms, droughts–as protagonists in novels. I hadn’t thought of particular settings as characters, but it makes sense. Oceans come to my mind as being great characters in novels. Charles Dickens does a wonderful job of giving character to his settings. So does Mark Twain, Jack London, and Colleen McCullough in “Thorn Birds.”

  2. I agree w/the idea that there are stories and novels where the setting functions in a greater sense as a character — recently I read David Rhode’s book, Driftless, and the setting of a fictional town, Words, in rural southwestern WI served that purpose. Thanks for the post.

  3. I actually wrote a novel in which I consciously made the setting a character. It was a mystery character that drew characteristics out of different characters in different ways. That was the attempt anyway. But this topic caught my eye for that reason. Nice post.

    The book by the way is “Backgammon”

  4. Yorick, That sounds so interesting. Is Backgammon available? I will do a web search on it.
    Pam, Thanks for the info on David Rhode’s book, Driftless, I will check it out.
    You’re right, Christine, Dicken’s was fabulous for giving character to his settings.

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