Someone brought up the Rain Room at the MoMA
while at dinner last night. Talk about a dynamic setting!
You can read more about it here.
I recently got back from a service project trip in Guyana, where I was one of six adult advisors leading a group of 33 high-energy high school students into the thickets of that country’s coastal plain. We were quite cut-off from the rest of the world – only one solar-powered electricity outlet, no internet, no phones (with the exception of a mobile for emergencies), and no running water. There were monkeys, apparently, though we didn’t see them, and a parrot with a clipped wing that squawked in a way that approximated but didn’t quite replicate a human voice. We bathed in a stream and slept in hammocks. And everything—the entire town—rested on white sand, despite the fact that we were well inland from the country’s coastline.
It was incredible to watch the 33 kids shed the baggage of their everyday lives and connect with one-another in often surprising ways. I think the way the kids changed and opened-up throughout the week was in part a product of them getting to know each other through working together and finding a sense of belonging with the group, but that it was no doubt facilitated by the fact that they were in a foreign country, outside of their usual romping grounds, and therefore they were uninhibited by the pressures that typically act upon them. There’s no doubt about it: Travel changes people.
Which brings me to this point: Setting is essential to character. The same character behaves differently depending on where he is, when he's there, and whom he’s there with. I've noticed a lot recently in my submissions that even when a writer is nailing the the dialogue and the pacing, the setting somehow gets left behind; without it, you will lose many of your potential readers. More importantly, you'll miss an opportunity to make your character more dynamic and more realistic as he reacts to his various surroundings. Here are some of the problems I've noticed: