Characters Interacting with Setting

Posted by on Apr 8, 2015 | 2 comments

Characters Interacting with Setting

Today, we take a look at how characters interacting the the setting of the story can work together to draw your readers in and make them feel like they are taking part in the action.




 Wandering Wednesdays

Setting is a critical feature of any novel, and should act as another character, drawing the reader in and making them feel the rain on their face. How do you get to the place where the setting and characters work together? Know them both very well.

We want our readers to know our characters as well as the neighbors next door. To accomplish that, the writer must make the characters and setting interact with each other so profoundly that they seem like one. Take a look around your neighborhood like you have never been there before. What do you think when you drive around the area where you live? What is the weather like and how does it make you feel? What customs, smells, clothing styles, music, and foods are unique? How do they affect you? Use that as a pattern for building a world your readers can visualize, a setting that comes alive.

I come from New Mexico, and we love the smell of green chiles roasting in the fall. We hate the spring dust storms, and are fascinated by large bodies of water. We love biscochitos and sopapillas, and think adobe houses with blue doors are beautiful. In New Mexico we get excited about rain falling, and have a hopeless fascination with large bodies of water. These are the elements, the tools, to build a setting. Once you have identified key components of the setting, look at a scene and see how these things can interact with the characters.

I have two main settings in Land of My Dreams, my native New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, and Scotland, the land that enchants me. No two places could be more different, but they also have striking similarities in the most unexpected ways. The climates are opposite. The foods are about as different as they can be. Their native dress is recognizable to anyone who has even a passing familiarity, and they each have unique words that are associated with their locale.

In my current work in progress (WIP), a sequel, the male protagonist, placed in the familiar setting of the female protagonist, has a revelation relating to sensory input that clears up an emotional conflict he has struggled with.


Now, they stood amidst sights, sounds, and aromas which were as familiar to her as they were strange to him. The rugged mountains where she lived, chile, adobe, and the rustic wooden spires of the church across the street were to her what sheep, heathered hills, castles, and glacier-carved lochs were to him. Home. Given time, she had chosen to leave it all—for him.

Here are some examples of using setting to augment both the action in the story and the character’s moods:


  • “Bonny’s tears began and ended with the intensity of a New Mexico thunderstorm…”
  • “…the verdant green of Scotland had come to symbolize the haven of peace she longed for.”
  • “Bonny watched the rain sliding down the windows and dripping off the eaves. Her eyes joined in, creating droplets on her jeans.”
  • “She glanced over at Kieran, questioning whether her love limited her visibility toward the man beside her as much as the fog limited his visibility of the road.”
  • “A man across the room drew her eyes like a bee to heather.”
  • “His eyes, the deep blue of the Scottish flag, crinkled at the sight of her.”
  • “A heavy Scottish mist greeted Kieran as he headed for Fort William, much more appropriate to his mood than the New Mexico sunshine.”
  • “Scotland and New Mexico are as different as water and dust.”
  • “Visions of his lost loves lingered among the old stones. Ruins—his entire life lay in ruins.
  • “The day was as dreich as Kieran’s mood. The college building juddered, as if it were a medieval castle battered by Mons Meg, the medieval siege cannon in Edinburgh. Sheets of rain lashed the windows, running down like tears. If Bonny dies, they will never stop for as long as I live.


Steep yourself in the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of your setting. What aspects of the setting evoke the most vivid images in the mind? How might they relate to the mood of the character?

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in your character’s circumstances. What are they feeling? Does it fit to have their mood enhanced by the weather and/or surroundings, or might it be more powerful to have them in sharp contrast? Write it both ways and then read them out loud to help you decide.

Rough out a scene, then go back and enhance it with details of the setting and emotions the character is experiencing. Think about the interplay of physical setting, emotional mood, along with outside circumstances, and combine them by the use of threads that tie them together in the mind of the reader.

Character depth and visual settings are a big key to drawing the reader in and making them feel a part of things. Become as familiar with your characters and setting as you are with the back of your hand. When you succeed, the result is a reader that feels like they are living in your book—and they won’t want to leave.

© Norma Gail Thurston Holtman, April 4, 2015

About the author:

Norma - LoMD 2014Norma Gail’s contemporary Christian romance, Land of My Dreams, released in 2014. She is a Bible study leader, and writes devotionals for, StitchesthruTime blog, and “The Secret Place.” She belongs to American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers of America, and the New Mexico Christian Novelists. She is married and has two adult children.

 Connect with Norma:

 Book links:

Amazon: or

Barnes & Noble: ?ean=9781941103173

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas Bookstore:


  1. Oh this was just fascinating to read, Norma! Your advice is brilliant, and your examples are breathtaking! I love how you are teaching ‘us’ how to be better writers through your wisdom and experience. Thank you for that, my friend. 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for your encouraging words! Have a blessed week!

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