May 6, 2014

How Setting Affects Character Development

What Do You Know About Your Characters

Character development is the most important aspect of a novel.

You might get a few arguments about this statement, but surely almost everyone will place the importance of characters at the first or second position. We’re not going to discuss how you develop your characters, but rather what influences that development. And somewhere near the top of that list has to be…


If you’re writing an epic fantasy and the world is reminiscent of a medieval European village, your characters will act, and speak, quite differently than they would in a world based on old Japan in the time of the shoguns.

Setting also affects plot and technical aspects of the story. Writing a getaway scene for a thriller based in San Francisco would not resemble that same getaway in Houston. And if you move it to Chicago, you have the cameras to contend with. I believe they are now the city with the most video surveillance in the country.

Grocery store at 8th and Union in Wilmington, DE.

8th and Union St.

November Sunset in Texas

November Sunset

Setting even affects the little things. If one of your characters lives across the street from this market in the city, he’ll walk to the store to get his groceries, and he’ll probably stop and chat with people along the way. On the other hand, if he lives in the country, he might drink a beer or two while sitting on his front porch, enjoying the sunset.

Setting affects every part of your story, from descriptions, to plot, to character development. But we’re not going to dig into what role it plays in description, or plot. We won’t explore the depths of how setting and culture affect personality, as they do in the immigrant populations of New York or other major cities. We’re not even going to delve into how setting affects character development. For this post, I want to explore only one thing…

How Setting Affects Dialogue

Dialogue is an often forgotten, or should I say neglected, part of writing. I don’t mean to imply that they forget to include beats or misuse dialogue tags. What I’m referring to is how writers change setting or location without altering how their characters talk.

What do I mean by that?

In my mystery novels, I have three different settings: New York, Wilmington, DE, and Houston. I can’t have the characters born in TX speaking like the ones from New York. Hell, I can’t even have the characters from Wilmington speak like New York. Here are a few things to think about.

• If one of your characters says “yo,” they better be from Philadelphia, or, have a reason for saying yo. 
• Any character who begins a conversation with “ya’ll,” should have spent considerable time below the Mason-Dixon line. 
• Don’t have your heroine ask for a “pop,” at a deli in the Bronx. Not unless they’re from the Midwest, and, your readers know it. 
• And if your antagonist is going to stop for a “sub” before he kills someone, don’t call it a hoagie, unless they’re from good old Philly. 

TV and Movies Are Different

Whenever you throw audio into the mix, it changes everything. So it’s not just TV or the movies, but also audio books. When your characters are actually talking and the reader/listener can hear accents and pronunciations, it becomes more important than ever to get it right. People often pay more attention to how something sounds—even more than what word is used.

Bottom Line

Before you start writing, you should determine everything you need to know about your character, including how they’ll talk and what phrases they’ll use. Your readers will appreciate it.

Ciao, and thanks for stopping by,



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Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

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