How Can You Present Your Location as a Character?
Why does famous novelist Joyce Carol Oats write setting as its own character? Because it is.
She knows the idiosyncrasies of a location directly impact how the story events play out.
Setting offers more than a place to walk around. It adds personality, dramatically affecting the mood and ongoings of the storyline in such a way that impacts a protagonist’s actions and determines viewers’ interest. And that would vary greatly should you substitute a different location.
Think Everest is just a mountain?
No. Everest is a legend. Everest has moods. Everest can be temperamental, unpredictable. One minute she’s easygoing, maybe even welcoming. The next she’s dumping all Hell on you. Just because.
Everest is a character.
So let her be one.
Questions Get You Started Presenting Your Location as a Character:
- What is your area like through the four seasons?
- What significant weather features does your area experience? Are you known for excellent sunsets like New Mexico?
- What is the feeling of your area throughout the day? Do the mornings roll up lazily, like in Fuerteventura? At 10am, the sky seems barely awake.
- What does the air feel like? Is it heavy, weighing down on you? Is it crisp and energizing?
What Is Your Environment Like?
The cab heads north out of the airport and immediately transports Erin into long stretches of barren, brown plains, peaked with volcanoes on the left and ocean on the right. The limited amount of plant life exists in foot-high scraggy shrubs and a few birds dotting the sky here and there.
“Have you ever been to a place that had few or no plants at all?” she asks staring out the window at the passing landscape.
“Fuerteventura is like no place I’ve ever been. It has an odd feeling. Strange. Moonlike, even. It’s during times like this when you really appreciate just how much trees and bushes play a role in creating a mood and backdrop.”
The only trees or plants here seem to have been planted, and the choices are Seuss-like.
Later Erin learns that simply riding her bike for ten minutes provides endless opportunity to document this unfamiliar landscape and explore a world she never could have imagined.
“Something about this place stays with you. It finds its way into you. Or maybe it awakens something that’s already within you.”
Do you have a place like that? Tell her about it.
Questions to Get You Started Explaining Your Environment:
- What are the main types of plants that you have in a given area?
- What are they used for?
- Are any considered spiritual?
- Are any used for healing purposes?
- What plants contribute significantly to the lives of the people?
- What plants are dangerous and should be avoided? What should you do in case of contact?
- Are any species in danger of extinction? If so, are there any conservation efforts taking place for any species?
- Which plants are not indigenous and how did they get here?
What Sets Your Setting Apart?
One could say, that when you break it down, whether the Alps or the Appalachians, mountains are mountains. They’ve got peaks and valleys, trees and animals. At the most basic levels, there’s not a huge variance.
Or is there?
Is there some reason why your mountain/river/lake/waterfall deserves our attention over another?
Look, sometimes Erin can have serious ADD when it comes to nature, even when it’s something she’s been looking forward to seeing. Once she gets there and sees it, sometimes that’s enough after a few minutes.
So give her mind something to think about to connect her to what she’s viewing.
Tell her why she should care.
And why now? How is it changing? Or has it stayed the same over time. How did it form? Why is this place different from any other place in the world?
Without much reason, they’re just beautiful mountains. For some, maybe an afterthought of what else to see on their trip. To check off the box of their Must-See list.
But that’s not what you want Erin to remember when she thinks about your location. With a little effort on your part, she could feel a part of the mountains—even before arriving. Then later, leave part of her heart there.
You want travelers to leave their hearts with you.
How Has It Affected the People of that Area?
Our environment designs us. It cuts who we are on its edges.
Everything from our diet and our lifestyles to our hobbies and professions. From how people first arrived to why they stay to the ability to access the outside world and ideas.
Over time, it becomes part of our mythology. A way to describe who we are, why we’re here, and where we’re going.
When you visit Cape Reigna, the most northwestern point of New Zealand, it’s important to take pause, for you are on sacred ground. It’s from here, as the Māori believe, that the departed souls leap off from this world and cross over to the underworld, returning home to Hawaiki.
And the reverence, the spirituality, possesses palpable presence. It’s held in the seas calling the deceased home; in the lighthouse basking in a sunlight seemingly unlike all other light you’ve seen; and the circling winds, which make you wonder, if they are the souls rushing around you, rushing home.
And you can’t help but whisper as you move around the cliffs.
At first glance, without the insight of guides, one would see it for what it is. A peninsula caped with a lighthouse. But story tradition and belief have transformed it into a place of immense spirituality.
How has the land shaped your people?
Questions to Get You Started Explaining How It Has Affected Locals:
- How has it driven how they live? What has it forced them to do? To overcome? To handle?
- How did they survive there?
- How has it affected their population? Their heartiness?
- How has it affected the style and development of their homes?
- What is the connection to the outside world?
- How has it affected the area’s development?
- What challenges does it present?
- How does it affect normal things? Like burials, cooking, etc.?
- What kind of jobs are available?
- What natural resources does the land provide?
- What stories and legends do the locals have about it?
What Traveler Experiences Can You Unearth?
Other people’s personalities unlock a side of a location that we might never have seen. Shading in color, digging out depth, making our experience that much richer. They’ve participated in a story that will somehow forever live on there.
In part, this is what mountain valleys, rivers, beaches, deserts are. Vaults for the human experience. And maybe some are best left to the quiet, unspoken space.
But others deserve to be remembered and shared.
Find out what those are.
How Does Erin Access It?
Sometimes, many times, part of the adventure is just actually getting to a place. But it’s not always fun to wait five hours for a bus to show up, only to find out later that it doesn’t run on Sundays, as Erin found in Italy.
“You would think that, in this day and age, internet resources might be updated regularly, or at all. But they just aren’t,” she says.
So help a girl out. Give Erin accurate, up-to-date information that won’t leave her stranded, alone, in a foreign country at sketchy hours.
Questions to Get You Started Explaining How to Access It:
- Are there new roads?
- Can you only get there by donkey? Or other random mode of transport?
- Are there buses and train routes?
- Are there transportation providers that can help you get from place to place?
- Are there certain times of the year, month, week when options change?
- Has there been a recent weather condition that would make it impossible?
- Are there stories you can capture about people who had an interesting experience just getting there?