Writing Is A Bad Habit: Can a Mountain Get a Close-up? a.k.a. Environment as Character

The cast of characters in a book is usually pretty obvious because, well, characters are people, right?  You get all the people in your cast together and there you go … characters!  Well, yes and no.  Characters usually are people, sure, but they can be more than that.  One of the most overlooked ‘characters’ in a creative work is the environment itself.

Yes, while the world around us is considered an inanimate object, it is often an important player in any book.  Think about it like this: the environment around you is a constant actor that influences a multitude of decisions you undertake every day.  Is it rainy?  Well, you likely aren’t going to be taking a long walk on the beach.  Is it sunny?  You might forgo the movie theater for the sports stadium.  Is there an earthquake? OMFG RUN!

It helps that we don’t entirely know every specific of how nature and the environment operate.  While our understanding of the universe around us continues to grow, there are still so many mysteries left for us.  That aura of mystery allows us to anthropomorphize nature, give it agency, and thus make it a full-blown character, ready to be used in your books.

This can be amplified even more by putting your story into an alien setting.  A fantasy world, with forces of nature that are completely foreign to us, enhances that mystery that lets us personify the environment.  In fact, introducing such an alien world is much like introducing a character, then as we become familiar with it, the world itself can follow a proper character arc.  It really is quite fascinating of an idea.

Now, that doesn’t mean we have to go to that extreme.  Some stories need it, some stories are enhanced by it, and others don’t really need it.  However, you should never entirely ignore the environment-as-character.  Even if it’s simple things such as remembering to connect the time of year of the story with the weather or the use of a sudden oncoming storm to force a climactic situation, you can always use the world around your characters as another actor in your drama.

Be it an earthquake, a thunderstorm, or just a muggy August day, never forget the biggest player in your drama: the world itself.  If you have any questions or additions, leave them in the comments below!

Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

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One comment

  1. That’s what I like about this infamous passage from classic literature:

    It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. ~ Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “Paul Clifford”

    Can’t you feel it? Hear it? See it? Sense the oppression? For more commentary on this paragraph, see my post at http://wp.me/p30cCH-oz

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