Setting is more than just a place. Often where a story is set is more important than even when it takes place. A romance set in New Orleans would be very different from one set in New York City. When we think about horror it is often in a small rural setting but when it’s done in a suburban setting or in a city, it takes on a different feel.
I love any story set in Louisiana or North Carolina because I’ve lived in both places. I also love to read a lot of westerns both modern and historical because of my travels. Feeling a connection to the places I read about is part of the fun, but I also love to read about the highlands of Scotland and Regency or Victorian England even though I’ve never been there.
Part of what I love about reading and writing about different places is becoming immersed in the setting. Victorian London fog evokes danger and mystery. A stone castle alone on a windswept mountain can give you the feeling of strength and solitude, or if viewed during a storm, fear and uncertainty.
Setting combined with weather, time period (era), season and the emotions of the point of view character can influence the reader’s feelings. If a determined optimist arrives during a terrible storm to a cold, ancient stone castle, they might be glad to be out of the storm and notice all the faded beauty and majesty of the castle, thankful for a fire in a hearth to chase away the chill. On the other hand, a grumpy, pessimist might see the same castle with its cold stone and faded glory as another burden to bear. Someone who is a bit melodramatic and fearful might view it all with a sense of foreboding and fear.
To give the reader the most accurate version of what you wish them to know and feel about the setting, be sure to have one of your point of view characters react to it that way. If you wish to surprise your reader or mislead them, do just the opposite. Remember in jaws, the characters are all reacting to a day at the beach. They are mostly happy, excited, having fun…until disaster strikes.
With hurricane Idalia just making her way past North Carolina, I wonder how writers might portray this event differently depending on their experience. Here we had little more than a tropical storm but down in Florida the experience was a bit different. Using natural disasters in a story, severe weather, even terrible events, can add another layer of drama, fear, and even depth to the setting, time period and even the characters’ growth. How a character reacts to these things can tell us a little more about them.
How do you feel about setting, weather and events in your stories? Do you like to read about them? Do you write about them?