In American Gold, my novel-in-progress, setting is not only a character, it is the primary antagonist. In an online workshop I once took, the instructor’s examples all used people as antagonists. I asked, “Can setting be a character?” The instructor declared that setting could not be a character because you cannot have dialogue with the setting.
Some secondary characters in my book are antagonists, but a human primary antagonist did not fit my immigration story. In my gut, I felt the instructor was wrong. It seemed to me other respected authors made setting a character in their books. An author I know personally even won a contest with a judge commenting on how setting was used as a character.
Since then, I’ve asked other authors and instructors, all more widely published and known than that first one, if setting could be a character, and they all said YES! Just as we should not abandon a manuscript because of one rejection, do not take the first No for the final word.
I was reminded of this when I recently ran across these Five Ways to Characterize Setting, courtesy of Fiction Writers Review. Well worth a read.
Have you ever used setting as a character?