Ever notice how in a lot stories the hero has to go on a great adventure through some kind of wilderness or jungle? I had my own adventure out in the wilderness for a camping /rock climbing trip the past few weekends. (Joshua Tree National Park, great place, good climbing rocks!) And during the trip, I had my own physical and spiritual challenges to work through and grow from. Now I understand why some stories use natural settings as places to grow characters!
Setting is very important to not only the story, but to the character. Every person has a natural environment they excel in, and it’s often times where they live. In the Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is quite comfy in peaceful Hobbiton. But, if he had stayed there, there would have first of all, been no story of course, and second, not much character growth. The journey through the wilderness of Middle Earth forced him to change his character traits to survive in this new place.
A good story telling tool is to take your characters out of the environment they are used to or comfortable in and put them in the exact opposite to see how they will change to adapt and excel, or fail. That doesn’t mean everyone has to go into the wilderness to have that happen. It would not try George of the Jungle much to just put him in another jungle, out if you put him in the city, he has to learn how to survive in that place. Some other examples include a football player in a dance class and a spoiled rich girl in a poor house. Ways of changing a character’s setting often aren’t just locations, but ideas or circumstances.
They also don’t have to be placed in a setting they hate to grow them. Maybe they want to be there, but didn’t realize the challenges that would come with it. An example of this is Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. She wanted a pirate adventure… but the reality was a lot different than her romanticized idea.
Changing a character’s setting could also include not moving them at all. In a screenplay I’m currently working on, a dancer loses her hearing, and must learn to live in the exact same place she’s been, but with her disability changing lots of circumstances.
What are some of your favorite stories that showcase throwing a character into a different setting and why?