I often think of working on a book’s setting as being similar to an artist prepping a canvas; laying down the foundation that will support and enhance all the future layers to come. Some canvases are prepped with layers and layers of white, trying to create as clean and blemish free foundation as possible. Other canvases are prepped with layers of gesso, building upon each other to create texture and depth that will in turn contribute significantly to the finished texture of the painting.
Setting is the same way. Setting informs character. The type of world we live in, the neighborhoods we haunt, the homes that shelter us all shape us in different ways.
Nearly all cultures and societies are influenced by geography—their creation myths, belief systems, pantheons cultural taboos, their diet, their sources of wealth, all are shaped by their geography.
People too. Even siblings. I’m constantly amazed at the wild differences between siblings. I remember reading somewhere that part of this is because each child is born into a “different” family. The first child is born into an adults only family, the second child is born into a family with another child in which the focus has already shifted from couple to family. And that’s not even taking into consideration the hard-wired personality factors involved.
And even if none of that makes it on the page in an overt way, it will color everything about our characters. Our main characters see the world differently than anybody else. No one has seen Egypt in quite the same way as Theo sees it. That is where the depth and texture, drama and tension will come from.