What makes an interesting story are interesting people, but don’t focus just on the people in your story whether they’re real people or talking toys like in “Toy Story.” One huge character that’s too easily overlooked is the setting of your story.
Your setting needs a character all its own that reflects the hero’s emotions while also providing obstacles to your hero at the same time. Your story can’t take place just anywhere because if it can, then it’s probably not a fully fleshed out story.
Think of the gritty Philadelphia neighborhood of “Rocky.” Just like Rocky, Philadelphia is tough and likable. Imagine if the setting of Rocky took place in Beverly Hills or the Sahara desert. The story would feel totally different. That shows you how much the setting must be a unique part of your story.
In “Ready Or Not,” a young woman is marrying into a rich family. Since she’s intimidating by the family’s wealth, the setting takes place in the family’s rich mansion to further intimidate the hero and make her feel small and insignificant.
In “1917,” the story takes place in World War I so everything is dark, blown up, or muddy to reflect the chaotic nature of war. There’s no way “1917” could take place on a luxury ocean liner or the highways of America. The setting is distinctly unique to your particular story.
On the simplest level, ask yourself where your story takes place. Some stories don’t need a specific location as much as they need a place that creates the greatest obstacles for the hero.
In “Little Miss Sunshine,” the bulk of the story takes place on the highway. It doesn’t have to be any particular highway. It just needs to take place on the highway. However, the highway isn’t overly crowded, nor is it rainy, snowy, foggy, or gloomy like you might see in a horror movie. Instead, “Little Miss Sunshine” takes place in the ordinary daytime.
The most important setting in “Little Miss Sunshine” is the beaten up van that the family rides in since it’s falling apart, just like the family is falling apart in the beginning. Despite the van not being able to start, the family still finds a way to push tart it and keep it going anyway, which mirrors the family’s own persistence in striving towards their goal.
Think of any sad moment in a movie and it’s usually raining. If the moment is particularly frightening, there might be a thunderstorm. Weather can change even the happiest setting into a gloomy one.
So think of a unique place, a distinctive climate, and a place that mirrors the hero’s plight in some way. By taking the time to make your setting integral to your story, your setting will support your story and strengthen it.