How to Build Character From Setting | Charlie Aylett | Skillshare

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How to Build Character From Setting

teacher avatar Charlie Aylett,

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

9 Lessons (39m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Lesson 1 - Not Just a Backdrop

    • 3. Unit 1 Lesson 2 - Creating a City Without Building Walls

    • 4. Unit 2 Lesson 3 - Recap

    • 5. Unit 2 Lesson 4 - Start Your Class Project

    • 6. Unit 3 lesson 5 - Some More Tricks of the Trade

    • 7. Unit 3 lesson 6 - Pump Up Those Literary Bicseps

    • 8. Final Assignment

    • 9. The End

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About This Class

In this class we will explore how to bring about a full sense of a central character by using the surroundings to show facets of their personality. 

The class starts by establishing what setting is and then moves onto deconstructing texts in order to understand how the technique works. Various exercises allow you to practice the technique yourself, ready to put to use in your final assignment.

If you wish to improve your characterisation skills in fiction writing, this is the class for you. So enrol and get ready to write!

Meet Your Teacher

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Charlie Aylett


Been writing longer than I should have. Along the road of those many years, I stumbled into editorial work and currently reside at Flash Fiction Online. I read a lot of stories every month, the majority of which are declined. I’ve critiqued hundreds of novels and short stories, read a thousand more, written a ton of rejection letters and tried to give helpful advice wherever possible. I've always taken pride and pleasure in helping writers understand key fiction writing techniques and give them objective insights into their stories and how to make them stronger, but I found over the years most of the time I was repeating the same advice over and over. Having spent numerous years reading short stories and novellas as a professional reader, and discussing the merits and disappointme... See full profile

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1. Intro: Holly. I'm Johnny. Welcome to my class. How to build character from setting and setting from character. This class is the writers who wish to convey character in a more subliminal way than directly telling the reader. And for anyone who wants to make their descriptive prose work harder for its place, that is just a mere backdrop in the class. We will identify exactly what setting means in fiction writing Pick a parts and pages from a published work and study the techniques of how character and setting could be intrinsic to one another. Create a character and setting up their own for the final assignment brought a short story employing the techniques we discussed. So what exactly is setting? It's much more than just a place of the landscape is much more than a flat picture that your narrator, your character observed from a distance. It's a living, breathing beast that constantly into plays with your protagonist and the rest of the cast. We're going to talk much more about what makes us setting in the next lesson on drill down into the more subtle techniques of connecting setting to the unspoken depths of your main character. What you need for this class three, the pen and notebook or your computer, however you prefer to write. Other than that, some or newspapers or magazines and a pair of scissors? That's it. So let's get going. Hit the button on a roll. 2. Lesson 1 - Not Just a Backdrop: So what is setting? Ah, the natural assumption would be that it's a place or it's a landscape. It's somewhere where the story happens. Of course, that's true to a degree. But setting is so much more than that on can work much harder to bring out a fuller feeling . More rounded experience are in your story. It's a place where your characters move around. They live, they breathe within it. They fall in love with in it. They kill within it on there, constantly interacting with it, uh, settings built from many elements, and it can really be intrinsic to your character's personality. So before we talk more about that, let's have a look and see what contribute towards setting. So the most obvious is the descriptive details. Without these would, of course, be bereft of setting. But sometimes the descriptions can take over the narrative. It could be a bit smothering on, you know, you can end up, uh, with blocks and blocks off, Ah, description of which you just don't take most of it in, so you can actually certitude your reader out of the details rather than engaging them in the details. I like to draw in the descriptive details as the scene progresses and the action is moving forward if possible. Um, your setting is also a stage is where your characters perform. It has props laid out in it to serve the specific purpose. Props could be used to bring out your character's feelings as well as a set off prop triggers. Obviously, we'll talk more about that a bit later. Your setting also serves as a backdrop to your character eyes. Perhaps, um useful to think of what that backdrop says about your character. Think about what kinds of things they keep around them. What does their location suggest about the circumstances? Things like that when thinking of setting as a backdrop, it's also important to remember that it isn't something that just fades away When your characters take center stage, the setting is something that's there along the time on the best way to be engaged. The reader, whether it is toe, have your character engaging with the setting. Do you, on a regular basis off. Yeah, So, um, so you're setting a tone is very much part of your setting. It could set the mood of your chapter, the most common way off setting tone or the atmosphere is through the weather. But colors is another option could be put to good use to create those kinds of certain moods that you want. Um, probably the most important part of your setting, I would say, is the people or more specifically, the culture of your setting. How people think, have they do things. Eight things react to things. All these contribute towards setting a swell, specifically meaning your main characters in the story. But the masses on the fringes of off your story. So that would be that the neighbors, the authorities, churches, the temples also what they wear, what music they listen. Teoh fashionable styles are all these things contribute on. How do those people effectual main characters? It could be directly. It could be more subtly, but you know they're there. Um, on perhaps the least obvious off aspect when talking about setting is perimeters. The setting sets out the perimeters off your story with, you know, the rules. What is possible? What isn't. Can people fly or do they have to? A dear to the real world rules that we live in day to day eso Those are really the main points off setting. I think I've covered it all. Of course, if you can think off any other aspects that you think would make her interesting discussion , please do host your thoughts into the class forum. On the next step, we're going to look at what setting says about character within it on. In order to do this, it be helpful. If you could read the beginning four pages of Toni Morrison's Jazz. There should be a link under the supporting documentation or supporting rinks somewhere within the class. Details. Okay, lovely. 3. Unit 1 Lesson 2 - Creating a City Without Building Walls: Toni Morrison uses the characters within the setting to characterize the setting itself. And in turn, the setting characterizes the main protagonist kind of an interlocking relationship. One mirrors the other. We're now going to break it down so that we can get a better understanding off how Morrison achieves that we're going to begin by looking at the details of the setting itself on. At the end of that, we show, then consider how that reflects on violent the main protagonist. The strongest element that stands out to May in the 1st 4 pages of jazz is the sense of community. The opening sentence launches the cloak your voice, which gives the strong impression the type of people inhabiting it, gossipy and tight knit. The funeral and the affair were both on violence. Own Doorstep gives an implication that these are people that don't tend to be travel outside off their own neighborhood. You know that he wasn't having an affair on the inside of town. It was literally in the same apartment block as Aziz, where the marital home Waas over to the apartments themselves imply close neighbours, Um, but also the way that they help each other with the Salem's Women's Club. They are looking to help people out with finances. You get a sense that you know they are aware of each other's problems and wants to provide a support network. Another aspect that stands out to me in those 1st 4 pages is that Morrison doesn't ever describe any details off the buildings Law off the roads or traffic. And yet the sense of the city is undeniable. The only reference to the landscape is the mention of apartments, which automatically employs a built up area. But other details lend themselves to further support this, the mention of lawyers and police. Although lawyers and police are known to work in small towns, they're generally associate ID to be predominant in the city. People know each other's business in this place. Yet nobody knows where violent lives. So there's this dichotomy that exists within city life that need to be part of a community versus the ability to retain some discretion or anonymity. So how does Morrison imply the economic status off this community? Well, the mention of lawyers being helpless and mocking police implies a marginalized community. The community without power influence not taken seriously which indirectly indicates a lack of finances. The mention of the sale of Women's Club discussing who they should give financial assistance to implies more directly the state of poverty, that people are in need of help. And, of course, coming back to the cloak your voice that gives an impression right from the very first sentence off working class. In less than one, I mentioned how the weather or colors in your setting consent the tone of the story. But in the beginning of jazz, Morrison doesn't really use either of these methods. And yet the atmosphere is edgy and dangerous. Let's scrutinize how she achieved that most obviously, there's a really thick vein of violence and criminality that runs through the setting. On the first page, there's been a murder girl has been shot. A violent herself has attacked the corpse of the victim. There's also mention off suicides. And if you've noticed violence, name is just one letter short of spelling the word violence. The reference to the legally license beauty parlor adds to the sense of criminality to I mean, why not just say the beauty Carla Morrison office? He wants to make a point about the fact that it was legal, which implies in itself that there was an opposite to that, that there is an illegal beauty polar. Then there's the neighbor whose house burned down, adding to a sense of insecurity, violence, the helpless lawyers and jeering police again, adding to the sense of criminality. Police not doing their jobs properly, that no one could be trusted. It's not a safe place to be. They're not going to look after you. The normal channels off authority are unreliable. The Children of suicides remark implies that paper close to the edge, and it wouldn't take much to tip them over. It might also support the idea of this community feel ignored and pushed to the side. Using the words Children in Peru also implies suicides, a common that the narrator is familiar with them, that it's part of everyday life. So now we have the question of how do we know how Violet feels In this whole beginning episode? We never really told directly how she feels. She's feel sad or bereft or betrayed, and yet we know it. The snow in the dark girl at the beginning could possibly imply how she feels inside that she feels cold, frozen, emotionless. But then Vita's actions to just otherwise she attacks the day girl she sets the birds free from the cage is perhaps symbolizing that she feels love has flown out of her life. Well, maybe that she wants to be free off the cold, her lonelier springs and the betrayal brings represented by the snow on the freeze or fly remark. The other thing she does is gets a boyfriend, which would suggest that she thinks playing the Genesee game will work in her favor. She thinks she could switch the tables and have her husband feel as she feels, which must be Genesee. From the details we have scrutinized. What do we now know about violence? Well, she's from a working class area. She can be dangerous and unstable, reflected in those people in places that surround her. We know she lives in a dangerous area, but we also know she is someone who could be dangerous herself. But she's maybe not the most stable of characters by her erratic actions at the funeral and with the birds and with trying to carbon copy the dead girl's dance styles, she doesn't seem to recognize the impropriety of it either, which is another indicator that she's. There's something not quite right there. At the same time, the use of music references of fashions builds a picture of the times, the jazz era without having to directly state that we are in either the 19 twenties or a big city. It's all implied by the use of details, actions and handle character interacts with the setting. Morrison does directly tell us that violence is in her fifties for indirectly. She lets us know that violence also feels her age in comparison to her younger dead rival. By the way, she stalks the old life of the victim and then tries to act out like her instead of a dignified older woman. Her actions of getting a boyfriend, copying dead girl and putting the photograph up in the parlor also let us know that violent likes to play games. All of these details are part of the setting, but Morrison Master Furry draws them in as and when she needs them to show facets of violets personality. So what similarities can we draw between Violet on the setting? While Violet is violent? Uh, she's also unreliable. She's not somebody who can be depended upon to act in the right way for what's expected of her role in a way that you could predict what she will do next. She's also teetering on the edge of tipping points, which is a feeding we get off the city itself. There's also this underlying sense of desperation and, as you can see, the character and the setting very much mirroring one another. Of course, there are not only similarities with the city. There are also differences between Barnet on the city, differences that have been used deliberately to again highlight the facets off her personality. For starters, there was a close community evident in the way the narrator speaks. And yet Violet seems like an outsider, almost trying to elbow elbow her way in. The city is young and vibrant. It's in the throes of jazz, saying the youngsters styling their hair and they're listening to music. It's It's an exciting time. Yes, she's a middle aged woman amid a throng of always fashion, the music. Then there's a sense of decency. Obviously, there is a sense of decency within the city, or you wouldn't have the women of the Salem Women's Club, trying to help people out with you need financial help on. Yet Violet doesn't seem to care about her inappropriate behavior trying to cut up the dead corpse on copying the dead girl's dance moves, whereas others are evidently uncomfortable with it. Here we come into the props. What use were they in the beginning? Off jazz? The birds were quite a significant image, right from the first page used to convey deeper feedings. Possibly that on it. Wasn't beauty aware off? Well, maybe unable to communicate in words, there was significance in her actions. Perhaps the image of the birds made a stronger statement than using dialogue. What did they mean to you? Maybe you could share your thoughts on the class community board. The photograph was another prop used, his reminder of the main plot point. It's actually used through the beginning part of the book as a reminder that off what's happened. But also it's used to show the difference between violets, emotions and Joe's violent wipes away tears born of betrayal, and Joe wipes away tears born grief. Yet they also cry for a similar reason. And that's lots the Miss Mars selling iron hairstyles they used to create the period. There's no dates used, and yet we know exactly what era we're in. But also to mirror. I'm draw attention to the new girl who moves into the neighboring apartment in Spring and Dorcus. That did go, I hope, through this breakdown of jazz, you've been able to see how character can be born from setting setting. Born from character. The two can be tightly interlaced and work together to get more depth to your writing. This is where the to Mary if you want your setting and your character to seem alive. If you want to avoid the directness of observational details and telling the reader what kind of character they are reading about, the two need to interact with one another, contrast with one another but also share elements of one another. So this is opposite to writing descriptive prose of the setting from from an observational point of view with the setting is almost a completely separate entity to the character. In other words, Morrison could have opted to describe tour buildings and dark alleyways in block paragraphs of description, as if we were stood watching them appear from across the road. But instead she chose to draw out the setting from the people who inhabited and in turn, that reflected characteristics in the main protagonist. No everyone can or even wants to write like Toni Morrison. But there was certainly much to be learned about this technique in this book. Another author who employs his technique to great effect is Sandra Cisneros. The House on Mango Street. It's a collection of vignettes on It's another good book to read if you want to see more examples of this kind of technique in action, so I got a little exercise for you to do. You can post your answers on the community board or included in your class project. If you wish. I provided a character sketch of my own for you to work with, read it and note down any details offsetting that reflect the main character, sass it on her hopes, fears, emotions and any other characteristics that incorporate setting bear in mind. Lesson one. And all the aspects of setting that are demonstrated 4. Unit 2 Lesson 3 - Recap: Now we've come to creating and exploring a story world of your own, which means that soon it's time to start your class project before we do. I just like to say, if you have any questions about the class, please do post them on the discussion board. I'm available to answer the most the time. It won't take me long to come back with the response. Please don't be shy. We're all here to learn. If you have any questions, ask them also before we move on. I think it's best we just have a quick recap on setting on what we talked about in Lesson one to the most important thing I think, to remember about setting. So it's not just a place of a landscape or flat picture behind where your character walks and talks. It's very much somewhere that your character must interact with must constantly be interacting with the setting to bring it alive and also to bring your character to life. Descriptive details are, of course, important, but my personal opinion is less is more, and if you can incorporate the descriptive details as you go along, or the props or setting will be much more vivid. Ah, then if it's just, uh, big block of description, people are probably the most important part of your setting. The way they do things the way they think collective knowledge. Ah, the masses on the fringes off your story can affect how your characters conduct themselves on a day to day basis. But you're setting also sets out the perimeters the rules off the world with within which they operate. And of course, you're setting is also a period in time. Remember the Marcel ironed hair styles in jazz, which really did set the, uh, the period without the need to write down the date in the book. 5. Unit 2 Lesson 4 - Start Your Class Project: I'd like you to take some old magazines or newspapers and cut out a picture of a person and a picture of a place. Alternatively, search on the Internet for pictures prints them off and cut them out. If you would like to be more random, cut out several of each type picture. Mix them up in two separate bags, one for people on one. For places and without looking. Take one picture from each. You can use this method over and over to find story ideas. If you are able, please post your pictures in your class project so we can all see what you have to work with. So now you should have one picture of a person on one picture of a setting. We're now going to get to know both your character and your setting through a note taking exercise. The purpose of this Mr Familiarize yourself with setting and how your character fits in with it. The more familiarity you have with both, the more confidently you can write them without the need to explore them while also trying to find the story. As the author, you need to know every nook and crevice in your story world, but your reader doesn't. They only need to know what's relevant as the plot unfolds and enough sensory details to create a vivid reading experience are exploring your world without the added pressure of simultaneously creating a competitive clot, You put yourself in a stronger position to write your characters and setting with authenticity. Some people do this by writing out some early drafts, but it's much the same process. You will find the exercise in the supporting documentation under the Project Description section entitled Exploration. 6. Unit 3 lesson 5 - Some More Tricks of the Trade: the last exercise may have taken you some time to complete, but I hope you have a reasonably started idea of who and where you will write about for your final assignment Before we move on to that, I just want to highlight a few techniques often used in fiction that convey setting in character in more subliminal ways that may be telling it outright. Remember, the key to writing believable characters in authentic settings is to not treat the setting as a separate entity to your character. The characters must interact with the setting rather and just observe it. They must live inside it. But the setting can interact with the character, too. Think about the surroundings in your setting. That's not only includes the people around the character but animals or creatures, too. Don't forget descriptive details and props. What could you used to characterize your point of view character to show that inner emotional state, or maybe their social status, what they fear the most or aspire towards For some inspiration? Here's a few suggestions and examples. Let's start with people. These could be major or minor, but how they act in a scene can also convey complexities of character in your p O. V. C. At your point of view character, for instance, your protagonist could be trying to show leadership on the outside it be terrified on the inside, a sideline character could outwardly display all the secret fears of the pier BC To convey this for your p O. V. C. Maintains a confident external veneer. Opinions and motive statements that other characters saying dialogue could in fact voice what your P O. V. C secretly thinks inside. Also, the fate or situations of other characters can reflect what your p o. B C for most fears or what they most desire or what's most at stake. These could be characters that don't play any more of a role than being a distant friend or a person that lives up the street anything like that. But they can reflect what's at stake and go with the Po hearing near the beginning of the book, when greet leaves her family home for the her first day of work with the premier family, the author Chevalier cleverly wraps up, greets most deepest fears and thoughts by transferring the burden of blame onto the neighbors, greets Father was rendered disabled by an accident at work. No one could legitimately blame him for it, and especially not a loving daughter. And yet, in a period where propriety was very much at the heart of society, great secretly worries about what other people think of them. The way Chevalier conveys this is by having greet assume in the privacy of our own mind that it is the neighbors who think her father brought the family down and not herself thinking it about him. In that way, Greek unthinking her deepest fears without field feeding guilty about them. This also sets up the main crux of the plots. Will she follow in her father's footsteps and bring the family into further disrepute? And she is constantly confronted with this question throughout the book. So how can animals help to create character and setting? Let's now turns TV fiction. In the very first episode of Game of Thrones, a stag and a dire wolf are found dead in the forest, seemingly to have killed each other. The Siegel's or emblems of King Dorothy in and Lord Stark of the same, a stag for house parathion and a dire wolf for house Stark. The dead creatures are symbolic off the nature of the men's relationship that although on the outside they are friendly, almost brotherly, there's much unsaid many troubling issues bubbling under the surface when these two could, at any point turn on one another. This also sets out the tone for the whole Siri's that in matters of survival or power struggles, there are few or no dependable friends, and everybody will fight to the death. Props and descriptive details are pretty straightforward. For example, a ticking clock on the wall could be used to infer characters and patients a boiling pot to indicate hidden anger or agitation and group it bruised piece of fruit to indicate the characters moles becoming corrupt. These are obvious ones, but I'm sure you understand the principle. The colors you put into a scene or a backdrop can be used to reflect the pier veces in a mood or emotion. So if they are happy, maybe there's a lot of bright colors in the scene. And if they are sad, maybe there's lots of gloomy colors. This is a technique often used in cinematography, but you can use it to some degree in fiction writing to. If you are familiar with the TV, Siri's The Magicians, You may have noticed its use when the characters are moving around in the normal non magic world. The whole setting is filmed in tones of grey and blue, implying it is very dull and boring or tepid at best. This supports the inner feelings of those characters who have magical talents before discovering magic. I have felt a distance, or disassociation with the normal world and continue to do so whenever they have to go back to it. Conversely, the scenes at the Magician's University of All filmed in full color, making it stand out and see much more vibrant and enjoyable to be in. This is also used in Girl Girl with a Pill, airing the things with Vermeer much more in detail. They're much more vivid with scenes with pizza, the actual love interest. They're quite dull, dark in the Siri's penny dreadful. This technique is used again in the last Siri's in one of the final scenes with the Frankenstein monster the whole time previous to his son, dying, the monster's power has been hard gray, symbolising his remoteness from emotions, his detachment from humanity. But in the moments after where he sits beside a candle while his wife begs him to take the boy to Dr Frankenstein to resurrect him, his pallor is born and radiant, symbolizing he has been touched once again with humanity and feeling. In contrast, it is his wife who's pallor looks grey, cold and hard. Coupled with her dialogue, she is the one who seems inhumane. The roles have been switched. Colors are also used in the Great Gatsby to reflect social status and wealth. 7. Unit 3 lesson 6 - Pump Up Those Literary Bicseps : we're now going to do an exercise and see if we could put into motion some of the techniques we've talked about. This is the three part exercise on my suggestion would be to complete each part before moving on to the next stage. So what I'd like you to do is to firstly re familiarize yourself with your character and setting from your notes. Uh, choose. Then I want you to choose the mood for your character. Now you're gonna be writing Ah, few paragraphs off your currents of walking home from work so that mood might will be effective from what happened at work. Perhaps they have, um, made a mistake at work, and Bean told off for it. Perhaps they received a promotion. Maybe that was the bus. What? Perhaps their horse fell lame on the way back on the road. And that's why they have to walk. Could be anything like that. Be as imaginative as you like. Ah, but trying to incorporate the weather and colors to reflect the mood. So I want you to try on and avoid telling us if they're happy or annoyed or anything, which to try and show their moved through the weather and colors and, of course, their interaction with setting as they pass through it. Your character has arrived home from work and is now trying to catch a spider. You're going to write a few paragraphs about that. But first think about how they feel about spiders. Are they scared of it? Or they an animal lover when they want to save it, maybe they want to experiment on it or add it to a collection. How are they going to catch it? Objects? Will their use think about how their actions will convey what they feel about it? Don't tell us they're scared of them. If they are, show us through the actions. And don't forget to use whatever props you incorporate to help you with this. Please post your exercise paragraphs in New Class project so we can all see how you're getting on. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them on the class community board. This is now the final part of this exercise. Your character is now out and about and trying to either buy something or sell it. What is it they are buying or selling, and why Just think about what the's articles suggests about your character and what it suggests about the place of trade and about setting period of people. How do they deal with the people that they are buying from or selling to? What's a few paragraphs of them trading this object or service? I hope that last exercise helped you to focus on revealing character from their surroundings. But did you manage to use any of the techniques we discussed? Were you able to draw in parts of the setting? Is the action move forward? Post your exercise pieces in your class project, but also share your thoughts with us on the experience? 8. Final Assignment: it's now time for your final assignment. I'd like you to write a short story using your notes and the details of setting to help build a picture of your character. But start your peace with your character, doing something with food and then build outwards. This could be them cooking, eating, stopping for a snack in the park, shopping for food, setting food, etcetera, etcetera. I avoid telling the reader how the character feels directly and concentrate on showing their emotions and traits through insane piece of prose that incorporates the surrounding details. People and props, etcetera. Try and keep any backstory toe absolute minimal. It's important to keep the majority of the narrative in present moment action. Remember to keep your character interacting with the setting throughout the piece by using props, other people, animals or even the weather house your pieces in your class project for your fellow students to comment 9. The End: So this is the end. Thank you so much for joining me in this class. I hope you've learned a new technique, and I hope you've enjoyed the lessons as much as I have in making them. But please do leave me some reviews and let me know which part she particularly enjoyed on which parts may not have worked for you quite so well. But please do tell me why. Uh, if you have any questions used the community board on and if you enjoyed this class, check out my others. I will be adding more in the future, so keep your eyes out. Okay. Bye. See you soon.