This may be stating the obvious, but setting is one of the most important aspects of a novel. I’m not talking about placing a story about samurai avenging their master in feudal Japan, or having elves dwell in a forested kingdom–though that is important. No, what I refer to is placing your characters in environments crafted by the story itself.
A good example of this is the Star Sapphire within the Dwarven city of Farthen Dur in the Inheritance Cycle. While mountains and mining of precious metals are common staples when dealing with Dwarves, Christopher Paolini used this particular piece to determine the outcome in the final battle at the end of Eragon. During the battle of Farthen Dur Eragon was fighting a Shade–a sorcerer possessed by spirits–in a chamber that was beneath the Star Sapphire. With Eragon on the verge of losing the fight the elf Arya–who was on top of the massive gem with Saphira–used her magic to shatter it. The resultant distraction gave Eragon the opportunity to kill the Shade, ending the battle of Farthen Du
The Star Sapphire’s roll doesn’t end with it’s destruction, however. In Eldest, Saphira offers to mend the gem for the dwarves and does so in Brisinger when Orik becomes the new dwarven king. This action unifies the dwarves and allows them to reenter the battle against the Empire. And this is what I mean by setting being important in a novel. Christopher Paolini took an aspect of the Dwarven mythos and made it an integral part of the stories outcome.
I did something similar in a novel that I’m currently seeking representation for. In the city that the main character is in there’s a building called the Foundation Chamber that has a tall spire at the top. When the main character is in danger of being captured in the spire’s courtyard, the spire–though certain means–breaks and crashes to one side, providing a dramatic means of escape. The environment wasn’t just created to flesh out the world, but to advance the story itself.
Setting in terms of environments and characters that fit your tale’s genre is important, but why stop there? You don’t just have to build your character’s surroundings–integrate the setting into the story itself. This will make the tale more engaging, the setting more interesting, and give you a better novel overall.
Disclaimer: I do not own the imagery used in this blog post nor do I any any descriptive claims to it.