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Mar 16, 2020

Matching the character’s mood to the setting

By Chelsea McCard.
Creating a relatable character is something most authors strive to convey in their writing. It’s not always easy, though. It can often be challenging to express a character’s personality without outright telling the reader. One of the best ways to do this is by using the setting to set the desired mood.
Picture a girl sitting on the edge of a pool.

It’s hard to see her from that. We know nothing about her at all. There is little information to tell your reader about her. Is she sad? Angry? Maybe she’s enamored. Before we get into that, we also have to consider a few other things too. Like her personality and age.
 A character that is outgoing and upbeat is going to react to her surroundings differently than one that is shy and melancholic. Just like how a character’s age will also affect these too.
Assume the girl is shy but kind and in her early teens. She just saw her first love, a boy in her grade, holding hands with another classmate who happens to bully her. Not only should she be heartbroken, based on her personality, she may also be wallowing in self-pity.
“Annie sat on the edge of a shallow pool, peering down at her reflection on the water. Clouds covered the sky, casting dark shadows over the entire park as she sobbed. Rain pelted down upon her with a great boom of thunder, but she didn’t care. So what if she was soaked or got sick? Annie didn’t have the will go on until every last tear was shed. That was the night her first love was no more.”
The setting is a secluded part of a public park in the middle of a thunderstorm. This location conveys that Annie wants to be alone, perhaps so she can avoid being seen crying by her bully. It is an easily accessible place for someone of her age, adding realism to the scene. The storm emphasizes her own inner turmoil.
If Annie were older, the setting would change. If she were in college, you could place her on her campus. Maybe the time of day would change so that she would be out when there was less foot traffic rather than being a mid-afternoon in a park. Instead of rain, perhaps the sprinklers have turned on.
Now assume the girl is a confident, sporty woman in her mid-thirties. She is in a similar situation as Annie. She witnessed her fiance in the arms of her co-worker, who always seems to one-up her at every turn. Instead of being distraught, this woman would be seething with hatred.
“Erin sat on the edge of the pool that sat in the small yard of the home she shared with that good-for-nothing cheat. The sun dipped low behind the trees behind the property, painting the sky in blood-reds and oranges. How dare he betray her like this. And with her? Oh, there was no forgiving him no, no matter how much he begged. She scowled down into the depths of the water, where her fiance’s motorcycle now rested. Take that, jerk.”
In this scene, Erin is at the home that she and her fiancé have together. This tells us that she feels betrayed. The sun falling signifies that she is literally seeing red. The sunken bike suggests that Erin wants vengeance and that since he destroyed something she valued, she’d do the same to him.
If Erin were Annie’s age, her setting could also change. You might say she is at home, but it wouldn’t give us the same feelings. Placing her somewhere like the city pool where she’d confront him directly would be more beneficial to get her emotions across.
There are plenty of other settings you could place Annie and Erin in. Just be wary of sending out mixed information. For example, We could have Annie in a sunny and bright place. In doing this, you can make it much harder for yourself to give your character the proper feel. Even if Annie were at a beach and it was the most beautiful day of the year, she’d still find a dark place to curl up in and seeth. If she didn’t, it would not have the same weight. This is assuming that she would have been a bucket of sunshine in this setting on any other day.

The moral of the lesson: Use your settings to emphasize what you want your readers to feel.


About the Author: Chelsea McCard
Hello, fellow writers. I’m Chelsea, and I am thrilled to be of service. I’ve always had a love for writing but only really started to put together finished works within the last few years. With my favorite authors being Tolkien and C.S Lewis, I primarily write fantasy. My hope is to be able to create worlds that will allow myself and others to escape into. Here’s hoping I can help and encourage others on their own writing journeys.