We love to feature tips on improving your writing by some of our incredibly talented writers. This week, Bill Noel, the author of the Folly Beach Mystery series and July’s number one Hydra bestseller, Discord, offers up his tips on using your setting as a character.

Let Your Setting be a Character

Bill Noel

Many novels can take place anywhere. It matters little to the story if they are set in Paris, France, or Paris, Tennessee. Other books have fictional locations as their settings or don’t describe the location to any significant degree. The story carries the novel. Clearly, the novel had to take place somewhere, but in those stories, the where is irrelevant. There’s nothing wrong with either of these approaches.

As we all know, readers like their books to be multilayered, so why not meet some of that need with unique settings; settings that play a role in the story. Where your book is set can be as memorable and powerful as your characters. Fictional plots center on human interaction. That’s what readers identify with, and is as it should be. For a moment, consider how much more impact could your novel have if its physical setting played a greater role? How much more interest would there be if, for example, your story involved a New York City, hot-shot attorney moving to small-town, Idaho, or a Jimmy Buffett obsessed, Key West native moved to Alaska to work on an oil pipeline. Or (insert your own contrasting settings).

My dozen novels are set on Folly Beach, South Carolina. Folly, a small barrier island, is located in the shadows of beautiful and stately Charleston yet is drastically different. The contrasts in the two locations might not be night-and-day but would easily qualify as high-noon-and-sunset. Wealthy, historic, and internationally-known Charleston, nudges up against the bohemian, laid-back, and the unpretentious island of Folly Beach. Folly is a real place, and to me has a beer for breakfast, shared with your Doberman feel.

The island has all the traits attributed to any three-dimensional fictional character. It has a backstory (formerly called Coffin Island, was a key location during the Civil War, and rumors of pirates and ghosts abound), a personality (bohemian), inner conflicts (growth versus stay the same), external struggles (balancing tourism and the needs of full-time residents), and, what you see is not always what you get (the ocean and idyllic beaches masking rip currents and a murderer or two). It has earned its nickname The Edge of America.

The setting’s distinct personality is then reflected in the novel’s characters, in their actions, and even in the way they approach solving the mysteries presented to them. The unique charm of the island is woven into the fabric of the stories. Readers have not only expressed interest in the plots but have traveled to the island to experience its unique personality.

If you haven’t already, consider adding a colorful, distinct setting to your cast of characters. Your readers will enjoy the personality-infused setting and you’ll have more fun in the process.