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In the most interesting stories, characters change. In fact, that’s a basic tenet of good storytelling: a character should end up in a different place emotionally from where they started.

Think about Harry Potter. He starts off the series as an eleven year old boy who feels unloved and not at all like someone who could successfully take on Voldemort. Seven books later, he understands his parents’ deep love for him and he has accepted his role in the wizarding world as the wizard who must take on and vanquish Voldemort.

But what does this have to do with setting? Everything. The setting and character development go hand in hand.

J.K. Rowling is a master at using setting to reflect the characters and the changes those characters experience.

It doesn’t happen in every story, but using setting to help reflect the growth your characters experience is a fun fictional element to play with. Let’s look at some examples to give you an idea of how this works.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry begins the book as an eleven year old who has absolutely no control over his life. He’s banished to live in the cupboard beneath the stairs, his uncle whisks him away to a rock island to escape the wizards, Hagrid then finds them and steals him away again to prepare him for Hogwarts. The settings are all somewhat threatening and scary to little Harry.

By book 7, the settings are still threatening, but they’re now much more stark. Harry has taken control of his emotions and his path. He knows what he needs to do. He controls where he goes and when he goes there, but there’s not much joy there and the settings are also darker. Hogwarts lacks its charm. The woods wellbutrin buy cheap where he camps are dark and wet. The settings reflect Harry’s change as a character, how much he’s grown and come to terms with his role in life.

If you aren’t a Harry Potter fan, let’s take a look at A Fault in Our Stars. At the book’s beginning, Hazel is sitting, in bed, hopeless, and she’s also in a hospital, more hopelessness. In the middle of the story, Hazel and Gus travel to Amsterdam, have dinner, and fall in love. The setting in Amsterdam is beautiful, trees rain flowers on them. During the climax, Hazel is heartbroken but realizes loving is worth it, even if you might lose it. Here, we find Hazel back in her room, but having learned that even when facing death, life is worth living, she’s now on top of the covers, not hiding away. Her room is brighter. The movie reflects this change in her as well.

How can you use this concept in your own stories? Do your settings reflect the emotional states and growth of your characters?

Put it in Action

1) Create a T-chart or two-columned chart. On the top left, list your main character’s name and on the top right, put “Settings.”

Main Character Personality Traits ______| __________Settings

2) Underneath the main character, list his/her beliefs and moods that are important at the beginning of the story.
3) In the “settings” columns, list the places your character feels or believes those things about himself/herself.

4) Repeat this exercise for the middle of the story.

5) Repeat again for the end of the story.

If you have written a character that develops or changes in some way (as any good character should), try to make your settings reflect that change.

What did you find out about your characters or your settings through this exercise? Share in the comments below.