from p.53 "Look at the wall next to where you are sitting. Now imagine a door....What does the door look like? ... Open the door, walk through it. Take your time. Write about everything you see there."
The photo from The Elegant Thrifter's site spoke to me - yelled ! - because while that was not my home, I did live in a similar house with my Grandmother, when Hurricane Betsy flooded us out of
New Orleans, and I was separated for months from my parents and my brother and sister during cleanup and recovery there.
I can still smell the backyard tomatoes and okra simmering with crowder peas and a hambone, mixing it up with mothballs and musty cotton - all boiling in the heat of Mobile's September. It's not a bad smell. And just like everything with childhood, there are memories attached. All stuff that gets called up when you try to write your own memories and emotions into your characters' bones.
It's all developing into the story of Franklin and India, fortified by my husband's photograph here -- "The Threshold." It may never be shared with the world (except for what's already been shared here), but it illustrates how our characters' choices and development also derive from the settings we write them in.
Our stories benefit from Contrasts in our characters and their settings.
Just as in interiors, designs are more interesting with strong color and contrasts in the room. You've probably heard the design principle that 'every room benefits from a touch of black.' (Originally from Elsie deWolfe.)
That 'black' or darkness, acts first as an anchor, to 'ground' a room from floating away on a cotton candy pillow of pastels, or into the void of white nothingness.
It also acts as a foil for the other colors to pop against. Pastel pinks, greens, even blah beige energize themselves against strong, vivid black.
Look at Harry Potter's surroundings. Set originally in Petunia Dursley's overly chintzed pink clutter, the owls from Hogwarts are a dark representation to something Petunia strived to escape from all her life... and yet, was doomed to harbor and raise in her own home; the very person who counterbalanced the Dark Lord himself.
Consider how Harry was relegated to a tiny room under the stairs first, then a dark sparsely furnished room with bars on its windows after his year at Hogwarts.
This is a character who has been imprisoned all his life, first tasting freedom when Hagrid arrives to take him back to school shopping in Diagon Alley.
This is a character who's had nothing his entire life, so he's got nothing to lose.
This is a character written to value friendships and relations over things, a stark contrast to his cousin's overstuffed entity.
This is a character who will lay it all on the line for not only his friends, but for his people.
Settings are a frame for our characters' choices. A girl growing up in a rural doublewide trailer on the wrong side of the tracks is going to witness some tough characters in her surroundings. She won't be accompanying her mother to tea parties at the Ritz, but more likely waiting on her dad on a barstool at the lounge down the street. Or perhaps when she's older she'll visit him at the garage where her father works as a mechanic -- educational opportunities may not have presented themselves to her parents.
Take that character who's seen the roughness in people who have had tough lives because of their own choices to 'go their own way' or drop out of school before graduating and thus severely limit their own opportunities in life, and give her a scholarship to an Ivy League School...
Okay all you Jane Austen/Elouisa James fans and all other fiction readers -- Give me what you've got. Any big contrasts to show between your favorite characters and their settings that highlights their choices and leads them to their happy ever afters?
And check out this post by K.M. Weiland on Characters and their settings here on Wordplay's blog:
Could any of these doors inspired JKRowling's opening to Diagon Alley?