Comic Talk and General Discussion *

Setting as a Character
usedbooks at 8:24AM, April 25, 2020
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I've been thinking about this topic for a while, especially as I work on my Used Books finale and various characters' arc conclusions.

The cornerstone of a successful story is a relatable character, one the readers are emotionally invested in and relate to. Usually, this is the main character, but in some cases, a story makes use of a “Watson” to act as a bridge between the reader and the unrelatable lead. Ensemble casts have depth in most or all central characters, so readers are emotionally invested in all of them and affected by what happens to them. The deeper the investment, the higher the perceived stakes of that character's arc.

In some stories, the emotional investment extends to the setting. A building or place, in essence, becomes a character – especially stories that take place in a specific location. Damage to the setting or being removed from that setting can become the highest stakes. The finale of several TV series (Fresh Prince is the first to come to mind, and The Nanny, I think) involve moving. By leaving the setting, the house's “character arc” ends. In other series, changing settings is a “shark jumping” move that marks the start of the series' decline and death. (Laverne and Shirley and I Love Lucy are examples.)

Not all stories use setting as a character. Some have vague settings or are in motion (although vehicles can become characters too). In crime dramas, the police station isn't usually that significant because it's not “home,” but the characters' homes are insignificant for the most part. But some settings that are significant include Cheers, The USS Enterprise, Gravity Falls' Mystery Shack, etc.

In my own comic, the bookstore is a character in this sense. It requires a story arc climax and conclusion for the finale. And a threat to the bookstore is among the highest stakes.

How do you approach setting in your writing? Is your setting a character or just a background? If something happened to the setting, would the story move forward unaffected or would it turn the world upside down? Would readers grieve the loss?
last edited on April 25, 2020 8:28AM
roma at 9:35AM, April 25, 2020
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My story is full fantasy in an alternate world that looks like the late Victorian/early Edwardian era. It's set up in a way that the world and the characters share a symbiotic relationship varying on different levels. Which is why my comic has a dreamlike and often surreal look to it. The setting changes because world development is happening at the same time as trying to get readers to connect with the characters. It's really is challenging and fun. I've attempted to write stories where the setting does not change similar to the movie Friday, 1995. It's considered a stoner comedy but I really like how the street that they live on take on a personality and grows based on each encounter the protagonists have with their neighbors. I feel like readers make a connection with a setting based on the characters experiences in the story.

🤔
last edited on April 25, 2020 2:01PM
rickrudge at 1:03PM, April 25, 2020
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That’s an interesting concept that I’ve never thought of before.

My Tag Forester comix are located inside Portland, Oregon. This is a featured part of this gumshoe detective story. I even did one Tag Forester story that was placed in 1950’s Portland, “Smelling Brimstone Through a Nail Hole”.

https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/Tag_Forester_in_Smelling_Brimstone_Through_a_Nail_Hole/

My Drako the Barbarian series has been located in Japan, but lately his adventures are located in The Step which is in the Afghanistan/Turkmenistan area. The later comix have a nice middle-eastern style architecture that I’m still just learning to draw better.
BearinOz at 11:44PM, April 25, 2020
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Hmmm…

Not sure I'd call the background(s) a ‘character’, but without them the human characters would not be who they are, in Butterfly Effect.

They are real places - in Wales, Australia, France. Also surfing - not a place, as such, but a ‘spiritual background’, if you like.
They were important to me, so I based the story on them.
Also, a core character is intersex, and I guess that is a kind of background, too.

I used real scenes, either photographic (for the French south-west, Costa Rica, etc.) and painted over, or creating my own images from them, from scratch.

“Oustiti”
modelling in Costa Rica

 
usedbooks at 4:53AM, April 26, 2020
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BearinOz wrote:
Hmmm…

Not sure I'd call the background(s) a ‘character’, but without them the human characters would not be who they are, in Butterfly Effect.

They are real places - in Wales, Australia, France. Also surfing - not a place, as such, but a ‘spiritual background’, if you like.
They were important to me, so I based the story on them.
Also, a core character is intersex, and I guess that is a kind of background, too.

I used real scenes, either photographic (for the French south-west, Costa Rica, etc.) and painted over, or creating my own images from them, from scratch.

“Oustiti”
modelling in Costa Rica



Whether your setting is “background” or “character” doesn't have so much to do with its richness as the emotional impact on readers and characters and its use in a story. Usually, this means the setting is limited, a fixed building or ship. (Quite common in sitcoms and series.) It has to do with stakes.

In an episode of Cheers, the bar catches fire. No people were in the bar, but the devastation and loss to the cast (and viewers) was the same as if it was a character. In another story, the “background” getting destroyed would have little impact if the human characters are unharmed. They can move to a new place and continue. There's no emotional attachment.

Likewise, a threat to the USS Enterprise that would cause an abandon ship would effectively end the series (or change is dramatically in “shark jumping” fashion). The ship is a key character in the story. Even having the crew move to a new ship and decommissioning the Enterprise would have a solemn emotional impact (and kill the series – or start a new, different series).

It is one way to approach setting that is not uncommon. Having an object or setting with the emotional attachment of a character gives you options for setting stakes in a different way.

It may be useful for writing to examine whether this emotional investment exists in your story. It might not, especially if your story is real world set or takes place in several locations. (Even fixed sets aren't always emotional investments.)
Tantz_Aerine at 5:58AM, April 26, 2020
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The setting is definitely a character in WM. Since it is Greece, Athens or villages, is in a big way the objective for the protagonists and the antagonists: for the protagonists it's their home. If it is lost they have nowhere to be and will likely die with it, or survive at great physical and emotional cost. If the antagonists gain it, then they can go home, since the war will be over or at least recreate the setting to make it their own home instead of the protagonists. It's all about that struggle, really.
 
Peipei at 6:38PM, April 26, 2020
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The setting of the story in Cosmos Song are the 2 main characters. It's a fantasy post-modern world so a change to the surroundings (other than a war or some other catastrophe) wouldn't change the story significantly. I think if one of the protags were to have died early in the story or they hadn't met, the story and effect, the entire timeline, would drastically change. I hope I answered that correctly enough. :p

Genejoke at 7:11PM, April 26, 2020
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Interesting topic. Yes and no for my comics.
Not so much with BASO, the setting is important but too vast and vague to be relatable. With Underbelly, well it's a fairly generic apocalypse, not that much to invest in. Similarly with Lore, it's fantasy but it never got to that stage.

Blood and water on the other hand, the setting and time period is key to it. It's set local to where I live, it's real places even if they aren't all accurately portrayed. The county of Dorset is key to the feel of the comic. I must get back to making more pages actually, it's been a while

Also with my new comic, Paradigm Shuffle the setting is very important, both in its nature but how it impacts the human characters. It wasn't until I had the setting decided upon that I decided to go ahead with making the comic and it changed considerably from the initial concept as a result.

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