How Setting Shapes Characterisation

An explanation about how setting shapes characterisation, followed by a short writing activity.

Written by Amanda.

When we think of character, we might not think of setting as being important. However, our homes give an abundance of information about who we are. Margaret Geraghty drew on a study from The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which identifies how we imprint ourselves on our personal space. For this exercise we will focus on one of the elements of the study.

  • Personal choice of decoration
    • Ornaments, wallpaper, paintings, photos, fairy lights, shells etc.

In The House Between Tides written by Sarah Maine, the protagonist Beatrice arrives at her new husband, Theodore’s house. It is 1910. We can tell a lot about Beatrice and Theodore from the description.

‘The house was large by local standards’… ‘A deer, glassy-eyed and arrogant, snubbed from the half-landing while a fox crouched warily on top of a bookcase’…’The hall seemed faded and dusty’…’Fine cobwebs criss-crossed the red deer’s antlers overlooked by a hasty housemaid’…’mustiness rose from the horsehair settle’…Beatrice privately conjured ‘up a vision of the hall in a pale sunlit yellow with bowls full of flowers from the garden she intended to nurture’ (Maine 2018).

Beatrice’s husband hunts. He is obviously in a privileged position because he has a big house and house staff. Items made of horsehair were expensive. The house is dusty, which indicates it isn’t occupied all year round, so may be a second home or holiday home.

Beatrice’s nurturing nature is shown through her vision of how she’d like the hall to look. She wants to add natural light, which shows her appreciation for openess and hope for her new marriage. Light is often used symbolically in literature.

Writing Activity:

Write a short description of your character’s living space. The setting will bring them to life without the character being present. Comment and let me how you found this writing activity.


Geraghty, M. (2016) The Five-Minute Writer. London: Robinson

Maine, S. (2018) The House Between Tides. Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton

Published by Amanda

Writer and Poet

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