Monday, April 21, 2014

The Relationship Between Character and Setting by Meg Moseley

Meg Moseley
Hey writers, Annette here. Our guest today has some great tips on categorizing your characters and how that relates to setting. Enjoy!

The Relationship Between Character and Setting
Meg Moseley

“Oh, no,” you say. “Blech! Not another checklist. Not another character chart, another formula for plotting.”

No, I just want to throw some ideas around. They’ve sparked new life and fun in my brainstorming and my writing, and I hope they’ll do the same for you.

It starts with deciding which of these three basic categories my protagonist falls into when I imagine him in the story’s setting:

1. Newcomer. He’s a recent arrival. The new kid on the block, he might be welcome or unwelcome. He might want to be there or he might not.

2. Resident. Whether or not he’s a native, he has been there a while. He’s on familiar turf, but it’s not necessarily a pleasant home. A prison can be a home, too.

3. Returning. He’s back after an absence. He has elements of a newcomer, elements of a resident, and other elements related to the ways he and the setting have changed since last time he was there. A “reunion story” often includes someone who’s returning to a specific geographical setting.

Now, how does he relate to his setting? What is his role there? The identities listed below aren’t necessarily tied to his personality, occupation, or social status, and they aren’t necessarily literal. He doesn’t have to be in jail to feel like a prisoner; he doesn’t have to be a soldier to invade a place.

These identities won’t all work with all three of the basic categories above, as you’ll see if you play around with them. No doubt you’ll come up with other identities too, but this starter list might get your creative juices flowing. If you have a protagonist in mind, which of these words describes his role in the setting?

a. Invader
b. Defender
c. Messiah
d. Crusader
e. Prisoner
f. Refugee
g. Peon
h. Ruler

But there’s a third element. Let’s say we have a Refugee who’s a Newcomer to a particular setting. Will he find a warm welcome, animosity, or mere tolerance? What is the setting’s attitude toward him? Is it…

A. Hostile. A hostile setting seems to hold the most promise of good story conflicts. It doesn’t need to be a literal war zone to be a battleground for your characters.

B. Neutral. It doesn’t have to be bland. It’s a setting that could go either way, and that can create tension. 

C. Friendly. Sounds safe, doesn’t it? But a cozy setting can be a good breeding ground for conflict too. A character who thinks he’s in a safe place is a prime target for hidden dangers or betrayals.

When you brainstorm with this concept, the categories are fluid and the possibilities are endless. Try 1-c-A or 3-d-B or some brilliant new combination that isn’t on my list. Have fun!


 Click for Amazon
A May Bride

A May Bride releases next week.

Ellie has prepared for her wedding all her life . . . but she has forgotten the most important part? 

Ellie Martin, a country girl living in Atlanta, has dreamed of a traditional wedding all her life—a wedding just like the one her younger sister is planning back home. Even though Ellie is realizing her dreams in the big city as an up-and-coming real-estate agent, she’s missing a key ingredient to her plans for the future: a groom.

Then Ellie meets Gray Whitby—at a wedding of all places. Gray is handsome and fun, and he sweeps her away in a whirlwind romance. In a matter of months, Ellie knows Gray is “the one,” but her mother isn't so sure, judging Gray to be the freewheeling type, like Ellie's runaway father.

When Ellie jeopardizes her own future for the sake of her sister, Gray feels like he'll always be second to Ellie's family. Can Ellie and Gray find their own way together amidst the demands and perceptions of others or will their romance end before it has truly begun?



As a little girl in California, Meg Moseley used to pretend she was a novelist while she pounded the keys of her grandmother’s typewriter. The author of A Stillness of ChimesGone South and When Sparrows Fall, Meg lives with her husband near Atlanta and never stops dreaming up ideas for contemporary fiction. Her newest project is A May Bride, a novella coming from Zondervan on April 22, 2014.

You can connect with Meg here:


  1. I love this, Meg! I hadn't thought of it, but yes, I have those roles in my book (newcomer, returning, resident), but I'd never thought of categorizing them with those elements. This could add another dimension. Thanks!

  2. Hi, Angie! I hope you'll have fun with the idea. I think it works best for me when I just play around with it, using it to trigger my imagination without letting myself get boxed into anything.

  3. I'm with Angie! I love this approach for creating and understanding our characters better. Thanks for sharing, Meg!

  4. Great elements here, Meg, to anchor our characters in setting. Love this list, and A May Bride sounds yummy! :)

    1. Thanks, Dora. A May Bride was a hoot to write.

  5. What a great list and suggestions, Meg...years ago, because I write westerns, the hint was "stranger comes to town" (either the hero or a villain) to get the story started. Oh, and burn something down in the setting if you've got writer's block LOL. I can't wait for your new book...anything with Bride in the title! hooks me right away!

  6. Tanya, I love the suggestion about burning something down! I'll have to remember that next time I'm stuck. LOL!

  7. This is a list I've got to look deeper at! Thanks for sharing.

    1. You're welcome, Terri. I hope you'll have fun with it.

  8. I never thought of looking at my characters and setting this way. I'm going to have to try it in the future. Thanks, Meg.

    1. Have fun with it, Sandra. Every writer's brain works differently, but this has been a great imagination-starter for me, especially in the early-early stages of a story.


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