How to Use Place and Setting to Help Devise Story and Characters
So, how can the setting of your story help inspire the characters you create?
When I begin to write a story, the first thing that always pops into my head is the place the story starts.
In The Map of Leaves, this is the foggy, grey, rather miserable village of Thorn Creek. Once I had that place in mind, I thought about who might live there – and I imagined Orla: a grumpy, stubborn girl who just wants to be left alone with the plants in her overgrown garden.
All writers have different ways of working, but I always find that thinking about interesting, atmospheric or unusual places is a great way to dream up new stories and characters.
So, here are some of my ideas for how you can do this too:
1. Take your writing notebook outside.
When I’m trying to come up with new ideas, I take my notebook outside. Anywhere will do: but I especially like to go somewhere with trees.
Next, instead of writing in full sentences, I write as many words as I can to describe the place I’m in. This really helps me to pay attention to small details and things I might not have noticed before.
It’s also a great way to warm up before writing a story.
2 . Imagine the world from the point of view of something that you see outside...
A tree, a leaf, a tiny insect climbing on a branch. What might they have seen? What sort of stories might they have to tell? They might even become one of your next characters.
You can write these ideas down or just imagine the stories while you’re out for a walk (but I really recommend writing them down so you don’t forget them!).
3. TV can be inspiring!
Watch nature documentaries or even action films set in all kinds of different places. Think about why they’re interesting or exciting.
I love films like The Lord of the Rings, filmed in some inspiring parts of New Zealand. I also love animated films like Song of the Sea, that take place in a beautiful underwater world.
You could even freeze frame a nature documentary and write about the place you see: imagining who lives there, what clothes they wear, what food they eat, and what adventures they have.
4. Draw the place you're writing about!
I love maps – of course, in the Map of Leaves, they turn out to be quite important.
Draw a map of an interesting place and then decide what kind of home your character has, where their friends live and what they do every day.
5. Think about the journey your character will take in the story.
Both physically and emotionally!
Perhaps your character is afraid of fire – and will have to cross through a region of burning trees.
Or perhaps they aren’t very good at team-work, but need to join forces with another character to cross a huge river or bridge.
6. Use the setting/scene to tell us things about your character.
Are they particularly good living in a certain place?
Perhaps they are good at climbing, or they can communicate with a certain type of animal that lives nearby.
Or perhaps they are forever getting lost, but they don’t mind because they discover new things.
Once you start writing about interesting places, the possibilities are endless!
Map of Leaves, by Yarrow Townsend, is out now in paperback (£7.99, Chicken House Publishing, ISBN 9781913696481)