How Settings or Locations Can Unite a Story 110-03

1. Isolating the story to a single location.

Most of the time this amounts to isolating or trapping multiple characters in a single location, which was already covered in Characters #3, focusing on characters in the same location.

But what if the story focused on a single location, but kept the characters separate? For example, maybe characters were isolated to different sections of a building, or characters moved from room to room while always managing to avoid each other. What if the story took place at two different times?

For example, what if Sarah and Mark are a pair of detectives, investigating an old crime scene. The story could alternate between their present-day efforts to solve the crime, and scenes from the original event. The detectives would never directly interact with the criminals, but the two narratives would be united by their shared location.

2. Setting as character?

To what extent does a location itself become a character? The most obvious examples are the haunted house and the “living ship”, an environment that literally has a will of its own. But what about figuratively? For example, in Lord of the Rings, to what extent do the Shire and Rivendell take on a personality all their own? The Shire is a safe, sheltered, vulnerable location. Rivendell is gentle, but strong, and full of mystery.

Event Horizon is a movie that takes place on a spaceship torn from a nightmare. Granted, later in the film things become more active, but in the beginning the characters are simply walking through the ship, and even though nothing happens, there’s a sense of foreboding. The ship is designed to feel threatening, full of colors and shapes that inspire fear.

3. Location as goal.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the story of how Harry and his friends search for said chamber. Every segment of the story represents another step towards that goal. Similarly, Lord of the Rings is the story of how Frodo and the others try to get the ring to Mordor, to Mt Doom.

In both cases the characters don’t reach their destination until the last segment of the story, but they reference their respective goals regularly. It becomes a kind of litany or chorus, reminding audiences of the overarching goal, and the characters’ slow but steady progression towards that goal.

4. Revisiting locations

Sometimes different characters arrive at the same locations at different times. This is similar to the example I cited for Setting #1, “isolating the story to a single location”, with the caveat that “this” is not the only location in the story.

A Song of Ice & Fire uses this technique quite frequently. For example, in Storm of Swords, Brienne and Jamie arrive at an inn by boat, and end up trading their boat for 3 horses. Later in the story, Arya ends up visiting the same inn. She sees the boat sitting by the inn, and the innkeeper casually references the “other” travelers, and how he traded horses for their boat.

It doesn’t have any bearing on the overall conflict of the story, but it creates a sense that everything is happening in a single, “real world”, which all the characters share.

Next Time…
How Ideas Can Unite a Story

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  1. Pingback: How Plot(s) and Conflicts Can Unite a Story 110-02 | Write Thoughts

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