Setting As Character

Character Settings

Batman = Gotham. Superman = Metropolis. As memorable as the characters I grew up reading, the settings for their adventures have taken on a life of their own. Our heroes may travel far and wide, but they always seem to return “home”. Occasionally the time is as important as the location a la the Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s lighting and backdrop and mood and an implied or created past, present and future. Can you imagine Batman’s Gotham filled with shining buildings, unending sunlight and parades that don’t immediately deteriorate into disaster? Can you imagine a Metropolis where it rains all the time, where all the buildings are run-down and abandoned?

Setting Powers

It’s been done, of course, as an alternate reality or similarly short-term method. The heroes and their settings work together, reflect and enhance each other. A (to me) classic example is the favorite mode of locomotion for Spider-Man. It’s hard to imagine Spider-Man without seeing him swinging through space on a webline. It could only be imagined in a city with skyscrapers. It just isn’t going to work anywhere else. Mr. Fantastic can cobble together a working starship from spare parts available in Manhattan, but that’s slightly more problematic in the upper reaches of the Andes. Writers occasionally use that situation as a vehicle to drive a story that otherwise never gets written, but usually it’s the exception that proves the rule.

That’s how important, and powerful, setting can be.

Setting Characters

So, what’s the point? The point is that the setting can become a character in the story. I find this more true of prose fiction than comics (or sequential art if you’re picky). Much like the description of characters, the description of the setting isn’t nearly as important when the reader can simply look at the page with the pictures on it. In prose the setting can’t speak for itself or be left out of the action; it has to become part of the action and the characters. Often it’s a one-story setting built around a character that’s the driving force. Other times the setting actually becomes a character in and of itself. It has much influence on the story as the characters that act within it. It’s as memorable as the characters. Classic example: Arrakis of the Dune stories.

Thought I was going to use Middle-Earth, didn’t you? Too easy…

There are many, many others. Hyperborea, Amber, Pern, Recluce and Wonderland are just a few that fill up the shelves of my library. Even (or maybe especially) the U.S.S Enterprise is a character that readers identify with, find inconsistencies with, argue about, and make maps of: something readers care about. Some writers even moved beyond a world as a character. The universe that E.E. Smith’s Lensmen inhabit is not someplace I want to live, but it certainly provides enough material for an infinite number of stories and characters to star in.

Setting: Veiled Space

That’s the kind of cosmoverse I want Veiled Space to become. The Jagged Earth as home of the Augments is one Story World where the world isn’t really the character, but Aurora City – that I want to be a character I can write RPG sourcebooks and draw maps around (you knew it was coming back to that) for readers to find unique interests in. For other Story Worlds, the character may be the world rather than a specific city or location. Regardless, I hope Veiled Space readers find things to love and hate and argue about in all the Story World settings in addition to the characters. That’s another way I can gauge if I’m doing my job: engaging readers.


Written by D. D. Wolf

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I'm on my 5th or 6th career depending on how you count them, but ideally this one will be my last with the kind help of our readers. I've traveled to several states across the U.S., but the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina will always be where I'm most comfortable. I've been an avid reader of comics for more years than I'm going to mention, but I return time after time to the old pulps. Obviously the Doc Savage books have been a tremendous influence. There's just something about seeing and hearing those characters in your mind's eye, just the way YOU, as the reader, think they should be.. I've been writing poems, lyrics and stories of varying quality since I was in my teens, which means most of my archives are on paper in three-ring binders! I've been creating characters in various RPG systems for at least that long. I've always thought characters made the story: good characters can live on through story after story. It wasn't until the last 6 or 7 years that I felt I could write characters well enough to be engaging. You'll have to let me know how I'm doing.

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