The Character with no words.

I recently said that I might do a whole post about this subject, here it is.

There’s one character that appears in every book, but never has a line to speak. And yet, I think it’s probably the most influential one in the whole story.

I’m talking about the setting. The place where everything happens. It might be a contemporary one, or somewhere in the far future. It could be on another world, or in an alternative now.

Wherever it is, there are two things that you need to remember about the setting.

First, it has a personality. If you don’t understand what I mean by that, think of your favourite place, and how it makes you feel. For me the sea makes me feel alive and the moors make me feel awed by their beauty. If the place can give me that feeling, then I ought to be able to communicate it in my prose. I want to make the reader feel the emotion contained in it and more importantly than that, make the story’s characters feel it and show that they feel it.  

Also, the setting can constrain or control the actions of the characters and force them to do things that drive the plot. Perhaps there’s a limit to their actions due to where they are. It might be physical or psychological, it doesn’t matter, just that it’s caused by the location or environment. It might not affect everyone, just one character might be hampered, leaving his enemies able to exploit the situation.

Moving on from that, the setting could even be the whole reason for the plot.

For example.

The Ribbonworld, Reevis is a very emotive place. Living under a vast dome, on an airless planet, with boiling lava to one side and a frozen waste on the other is bound to stir emotions. The locals may appear to be immune to the effect but the sense of living on the edge, of the precarious balance needed to ensure their survival, permeates the atmosphere. It impacts all the inhabitants. For the visitor, like Miles Goram, there is the constant question, will I die today?

Then there’s Coopers Post, a trading station on the planet Nara. Here is a place with a seedy reputation, a place where the underhand and dodgy characters rule. Where you have to be careful; if you want to live to make another deal. As Dave Travise finds out, so many times in his adventures.

And Norlandia. A quasi-Victorian society, in thrall to the power of steam and clockwork. A place of invention, of bold new ideas. Yet, in the face of the advances in science, there are vested interests that will do anything to keep their power.

Finally, the space station orbiting Saturn, the place where Andorra Pett learns to be more than she thought she could be. The great thing about this as a location is that you can give it familiarity with a coffee shop, and then twist it with a close-up view of Saturn’s rings through the window. Now add in a farm (which you will need, to avoid the stream of supply ships), which all logic tells you shouldn’t be there. With that dichotomy, you have the perfect place to introduce the fact that while space is dangerous, science is so advanced that normality can exist. And that, even out here, there is still the chance for earthly things like murder and mayhem to happen.

What do you think?

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