A setting with character

If you want your story to be interesting, why not give it a setting with some character? Alaska, for example. I’ve been to enough writing workshops to glean the importance of setting. It’s not about the setting itself, no matter how gorgeous or ugly, hot or cold, wet or dry. It’s the effect on characters that’s important. The weather is just one of many ways a setting can make trouble, but it’s the most basic. So why do so many writers forget to make it rain? And what about long term changes in the weather like seasons?

Even climate change takes fewer years than the span of some books. I lived in Alaska while my husband was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base from 1994 to 1997. Back then, we could see Portage Glacier from the visitors center and walk up to Exit Glacier. Now it takes a boat to get to Portage, and Exit Glacier has receded so far I’m sure that one mile labeled walk was more like two, all uphill, to a roped off viewpoint. The truth of global warming is pretty obvious when you see the glaciers recede so far in so few years. I make no claims about the source though. I’m not into arguments. Below is Portage Glacier, seen from the boat.

As backdrop for a story, how would this climate change affect a character over time? The same goes for fishing. Not what it used to be. That would certainly create tension if the character depended on the land for a living. Fiction or nonfiction, the setting’s effect on characters would also draw attention to the problem, whatever it be. Environmental deterioration is only one of many possibilities.

A setting can do more than give a story character–it can become a character in the sense of an antagonist, to create tension. The picture below was taken by my hubby on a previous trip. On this trip, I came along but didn’t fish because of an injury. It would have been much more interesting if I’d dislocated my shoulder escaping from a bear instead of working on our sprinkler system. Nevertheless, the pain was the reason I was the only person typing on a laptop on the riverbank while everybody else got to fish, including the bears.

Someone called me “pathetic”, adding insult to injury. Oh, well. One person’s pathetic is another person’s travel writing. And the aforementioned didn’t catch a single fish that day while I left with a whole bunch of words in my book, plus pictures and ideas for my blog. This story had a happy ending too. The next picture shows what ended up in my sister’s freezer and mine. In case you didn’t know, we went to Alaska for the halibut.

Share A Heart

Indie author-friendly freelance editor, children's book blogger for picture books through YA, kid lit, SF/fantasy lover with special fondness for middle grade, pun-loving SCBWI member, meter-maid for poetry and rhyming picture books.


  1. Sorry you didn’t get to fish, but having all that wonderful time in which to write sounds like a godsend. Have fun readjusting to the hot weather back at home

  2. Great post! Loved your photos! And I think writing on the riverbank sounds ideal to me.

  3. I loved your pictures especially the one of the moose. She looks like she’s playing Hide and Seek.

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