Conflict is a key technique that writers use in literature to move their stories forward. Conflict can be external or internal and most stories rely on several different forms of conflict in order to create a compelling tale. But how is the conflict related to the setting in literature? How does the location and time frame of a story affect the characters and their struggles? In this article, we will explore how setting influences conflict and how writers can use this relationship to enhance their stories.
Setting and Characterization
Setting is not just a backdrop for the action of a story. It is also a crucial element of characterization, as it reveals the values, beliefs, and motivations of the characters. According to Britannica, “the makeup and behaviour of fictional characters often depend on their environment quite as much as on their personal characteristics”. For example, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the contrast between the rural and urban settings reflects the different social classes and moral codes of the characters. The Bennet family lives in the countryside, where they are exposed to gossip, scandal, and prejudice. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, resides in a grand estate in London, where he enjoys wealth, status, and refinement. The setting creates a conflict between the characters, as they have to overcome their initial impressions and prejudices to find love.
Setting and Atmosphere
Setting also creates atmosphere, which is the mood or tone of a story. Atmosphere affects how readers feel about the characters and their situations, and can also foreshadow events or outcomes. For example, in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, the setting is a gloomy and decaying mansion that symbolizes the mental and physical deterioration of its inhabitants. The atmosphere is one of horror, suspense, and dread, as the narrator witnesses the downfall of his friend Roderick Usher and his sister Madeline. The setting intensifies the conflict between sanity and madness, life and death, and reality and illusion.
Setting and Plot
Setting also influences plot, which is the sequence of events that make up a story. Setting can provide opportunities or obstacles for the characters, as well as trigger or resolve conflicts. For example, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the setting is an “alternative world” called Middle Earth, where different races and creatures coexist. The setting provides the main conflict of the story, as the evil Sauron seeks to conquer Middle Earth with his One Ring of power. The setting also provides the main goal for the protagonist Frodo Baggins, who has to destroy the Ring in Mount Doom, where it was forged. The setting also creates various subplots and challenges for Frodo and his companions, such as escaping from orcs, fighting with goblins, crossing mountains and rivers, and resisting temptation.
How to Use Setting to Create Conflict
As we have seen, setting can create conflict in literature by affecting characterization, atmosphere, and plot. Here are some tips on how to use setting to create conflict in your own writing:
- Choose a setting that suits your genre and theme. For example, if you are writing a mystery novel, you might want to choose a setting that is mysterious, dark, or isolated. If you are writing a romance novel, you might want to choose a setting that is romantic, exotic, or picturesque.
- Use descriptive language to convey your setting. Use sensory details such as sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste to make your setting vivid and realistic. Use figurative language such as similes, metaphors, personification, and symbolism to make your setting expressive and meaningful.
- Use contrast to create tension. Contrast different settings within your story to highlight differences between characters or situations. For example, you might contrast a peaceful village with a war-torn city, or a luxurious palace with a humble cottage.
- Use change to create drama. Change your setting over time or across space to show how your characters or circumstances change as well. For example, you might show how your character grows from a child to an adult by changing their home or school environment. Or you might show how your character travels from one country or culture to another by changing their language or customs.
Setting is an important element of literature that can create conflict in various ways. By choosing an appropriate setting for your story and using descriptive language, contrast, and change to convey it, you can enhance your story’s conflict and engage your readers’ interest.