SETTING AS A CHARACTER

Virginia City, Montana at the close of the Civil War when gold was discovered

Here’s an excerpt from Montana Promises that shows how setting can become a character, and yet not interfere with conflict, suspense or characterization and especially not hold back the action.
Tressie has set out to follow Reed, who sneaked off in the middle of the night to keep from taking her with him west to Virginia City and the gold rush. Read the first chapter posted on my website to place yourself in the story.
Too many authors write without a thought to placing the reader in the story. It could take place anywhere: New York to Montana and no one would know. Do not describe things, but rather show them through the eyes of the POV character (s) so the reader’s six senses go into play and he/she is transported into the story so deeply she forgets where she is.
Excerpt:
The sun rested on the rim of the earth when she finally made the riverbank. Hunkering on her heels, she gazed into rushing sworls of muddy water, made angry by the storm. The current ran mighty fast, the froth and roar enough in itself to frighten her out of crossing, never mind that she couldn’t tell how deep the murky water was. Crouched there in the dense shadows of early dusk, she probably was invisible to man and beast. Beneath the thick canopy of cottonwood branches would be an ideal place to spend the night, lulled to sleep by the singing leaves. The forest along the riverbank reminded her a bit of the Ozark wilderness, and she’d spent many a night alone there cradled in the arms of the deep woods. But if Reed walked on into the night, she would never catch him. Exhausted and confused, she bent to drink, un­sure of what to do.
Above the roar of the rushing waters and the wind through the cottonwood trees came the sound of galloping horses. Harsh shouts cut through the rain-washed air. Peering between thick underbrush, she made out several riders upstream and on the far bank of the river. Indians! Afraid to move, she clapped a hand tightly over her mouth. Fear dried her tongue so that it stuck to her teeth. Obviously the Indian party hadn’t seen Reed, wherever he might be, for several dismounted and let their horses drink while they stretched and spoke casually. A couple even relieved themselves right out in the open. Spying on them sent a chill trailing up and down her backbone. She shuddered. Any moment they might spot her, and that would mean death or worse.
A hailing shout from the bank directly opposite her hiding place fueled her fear. Were there more of the savages? While the Indians were distracted, she edged deeper into the brush. There she huddled as the men grew quite boisterous. She dared a cautious peek. Someone had joined them. A white man. She expected at any moment to see them fall upon him and scalp his hair right off his head. That didn’t happen. A friendly visit ensued that seemed endless. Finally the Indians mounted up and rode off, everyone waving friendly-like. She squinted her eyes and glared at the man they left behind. It was…no, it couldn’t be. But it was. The man who had spoken so casually with the Indians was Reed Bannon.
An explosive breath from deep in her lungs sounded awfully loud and Tressie hunkered back in hiding, terrified that the Indians would swing around and ride her way. She stayed there until her legs were tingly stumps and a cramp held her back stiffly. She’d dropped the rifle in her earlier haste, and so backed out of the brush at long last, bent on retrieving it. She bumped solidly into a pair of legs clothed in soaked britches.
Screeching, she tried to scamper back into hiding. A hand snatched her overall straps and dragged her to her feet. “You can come out now,” the stern voice said. Letting out a yowl, she flailed at the air with clenched fists.
Her Kentucky rifle in one hand, the crossed straps of her overalls fisted in the other, Reed Bannon spoke in a soft voice, “Hush, girl. You want to bring them back? Hush, now. Thunderation, what are you doing here?”
“Reed? Is that you?” Blind panic dissolving, she peered into the familiar face. ‘Turn me loose this instant. Let me go! And give me back my gun.”
She kicked at his shins with the heavy shoes. He dodged easily out of range, grimaced, and let go of her. The shoulder wound had to still be bothering him, but she didn’t care. She just landed on both feet with a grunt and glared at him, ready to do further battle.
“Behave yourself. Is that any way to treat the man who just saved your hide?”
“Oh, sure. After leaving me out on the prairie to die, you save my life. How gallant.” She took great pleasure in throwing his words back at him.
He ignored it and continued to scold her. “For goodness’ sake, I didn’t leave you to die. You were safe there. You had a roof over your head, food to eat, water to drink. What do you have out here, girl? Indians and wild animals, that’s what. Do you know how many men die crossing these plains? Not to mention the weaker sex. Now what am I going to do with you? Two days lost if I take you home. There ain’t many women in the camps. Lord sakes, girl, how can I protect you?”
She seriously considered leaping on him and giving him a good pounding. His eyes snapped and she changed her mind, speaking instead. “Forget that; I’ll protect myself. You’re not taking me back. Not unless you hog-tie me and drag me. If you do I’ll just follow you again.”
He snorted in derision. “Hog-tying you isn’t such a bad idea.” Though she could scarcely see his face in the darkness, she sensed him studying her. “What were you going to do come dark? Or suppose I’d a gone on when I spotted you coming down off that rise, instead of hanging around? Them Indians would have had you if I hadn’t sent them off in another direction, and then what would you have done?”
“A lot you care. Taking advantage of me just like some animal in heat, then running off. I thought we were…we had…I felt like—”
“Bull hockey, girl. You lured me into that trying to weasel your way into my good graces. You think I’d want it so bad I’d take you along so I’d have it at hand?”
She doubled up her fist and belted him dead on the point of his chin. The blow jarred her to the top of her head. She sucked at her knuckles and did a dance while he staggered backward. The jolt didn’t actually knock him off his feet, but his eyes glazed momentarily.
“Woman, what’s the matter with you?” he finally asked in an amazed tone.
Sucking at her aching fist, she looked up into his black eyes. Eyes that revealed more hurt than anger. She felt the tears coming and could do nothing but let them flow. Down both cheeks they poured and plopped onto the ground. Soon she began to bawl in earnest and slumped to a sitting position. With moisture-laden words she tried to explain her actions, but couldn’t make herself understood. Weariness had defeated her.
Montana Promises from Kindle
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About veldabrotherton

I'm primarily a writer, but I also speak and teach workshops and co-chair a large critique group. My brand is SexyDarkGritty and that applies to my western historical romances, mysteries, women's fiction and horror novels. After almost 30 years in this business, I still have something to learn and attend conferences to network with other writers, publishers, editors and agents.
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2 Responses to SETTING AS A CHARACTER

  1. The title of your post says it all. I agree that setting can (and, in my opinion, should) be as integral a part of a novel as any of the characters. If used properly, setting can actually help to create conflict, mood and suspense.

  2. Eunice Boeve says:

    Tried to leave a comment twice before and failed, so if 3 of these show up that's why. About setting as a character. It definitely is but should not be intrusive or overly long-winded. I usually skip over long description for I'm more interested in the meat than the condiments. Just my take on settings.

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