The setting in a picture book influences character, point of view and plot.
Characters are influenced by setting. Who they are, how they act and how they solve their problem are all connected with the setting. The setting can determine how characters are intertwined in a story. The setting influences how the character speaks and acts. The place where a character lives can affect his dialogue and the way he moves.
For example, if a story takes place in Mexico, where it is hot, then the characters may talk and move slower and have different everyday experiences than a character living in Alaska, where a character may speak directly to conserve energy.
The story takes place in a hen house but quickly moves to a deep and dark sea. The reader knows right away that her life will change dramatically because of her new setting. On the high seas Louise encounters pirates, a storm and lots of adventure. She acts and talks differently in this new place compared to her former safe and warm henhouse on the farm. Two more adventures ensue, a circus and a foreign bazaar. Each new setting affects Louise’s actions and how she interacts with her surroundings.
Setting influences the plot in a story.
In Mrs. McBloom, Clean Up Your Classroom, author Kelly DiPucchio puts a teacher in a classroom. Mrs. McBloom’s problem is that she has too much clutter and it has become a nuisance and a hazard. The first page of the story tells us the setting, character and problem. “It’s a fact that nearly every school from Kennebunkport, Maine to Chickalon, Alaska, has one teacher whose classroom is a sorry, jumbled-up mess. Knickerbocker Elementary in the pint size town of Up Yonder was no exception.”
Mrs. McBloom’s classroom hadn’t been cleaned in 50 years. She is about to retire and clean her room for a new teacher. With the help of her students, they come up with a way for the whole town to help. This problem wouldn’t be the same if the action occurred in another place. DiPucchio masterfully incorporates the plot in just the right setting.
In my own stories, Mrs. Bass, Where is Your Class? and Dream a Little Dream each have strong, definitive and natural settings. The characters in each of these stories interact with their surroundings in a way that is fitting. In the Mrs. Bass story, she wouldn’t have the same problem if it was set in another place. Her actions are determined by her problem of finding her students. Her point of view is clearly shown through her worries and fears of not being able to find her class. The reader sees what she is doing and thinking by the clues she solves and the rooms where she looks for her students.
Dream a Little Dream is full of “setting.” The main character travels to many different locations discovering new things about each new place. If it weren’t for the setting, the character wouldn’t be traveling and exploring.
In conclusion, setting is influenced by character, point of view and plot. The setting is like the stage and scenery of a play. The actors (the characters) interact with the scenery by moving around the stage acting (character’s actions) out the story line. (solving the conflict within the play by moving the plot forward.) Just as actors in a play perform their story, picture book characters, their point of view and the plot all revolve around the place where the story takes place; the setting.
- Brett, Jan. The Three Snow Bears. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2007.
- Coy, John. Night Driving. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1996.
- DiCamillo, Kate. Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.
- DiPucchio, Kelly. Mrs. McBloom, Clean Up Your Classroom! New York: Hyperion Books, 2005.
- Fox, Mem. Possum Magic. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1983.
- Skeers, Linda. The Impossible Patriotism Project. New York: Dial Books/Penguin Group, 2007.