currently playing on my iPod: Words by the Doves
In my last post, I discussed one reason why people fall for a story: characters. Today, I’ll tackle another: setting.
In all good stories, ones with strong conflict and gut-wrenching tension, settings give the reader both light and dark to enjoy. Light being all the feel-good stuff. Dark being the danger and excitement or the shared conflict between characters.
Let me give you an example.
In Harry Potter, the setting of Hogwarts gives the reader light through the sense of belonging. Harry’s friends are loyal and fun and everything a kid needs in friends. Readers also feel good when Dumbledore treats Harry differently than the other students. He feels special and therefore so do the readers. In Hogwarts’ dining hall, kids get to eat some crazy good food. More light. The ceiling is totally cool too, as it looks like the sky, complete with clouds, sun, and so forth. The place is amazing. Floating candles, tapestries, secret passageways. All this is the light.
But Hogwarts also draws readers in with its exciting dark side. Staircases move and Harry has to be careful not to get lost or fall. If he doesn’t learn the new password for the Gryffindor common room, he might get in trouble or be trapped outside with bullies such as Draco and his cronies. Snape brings Harry and his pals together by being a common enemy. Readers just hate that guy at the beginning. And don’t even get me started on the basement. Three-headed dog? C’mon. That’s rad.
Hogwarts is a perfect blend of happy and scary. It draws readers in and they want to stay there, live there.
So check your setting, writers. Does your setting tempt the reader with hedonistic yummies and thrill them with danger and mystery? Ask yourself if you’d want to live where your books takes place. If you wouldn’t–at least during the “good parts”–you should look into shaping your setting, adding more light, more dark, or a bit of both.