One of the best parts in Me Before You was the Jane-Austen-meets-pinwheels-of-color setting. While setting may be much easier to convey in visual form than in written form, there are still a few easy ways to make your setting pop. Sometimes, the importance of the setting depends on genre. In science fiction, the world building often directly plays into the conflict. However, all genres have made masterful use of their setting. How could Jane Eyre have taken place without her society’s habit of employing governesses? What would a romance story be without a few poetic sunsets?
Even if description isn’t your strong suit, there are still ways to make your writing flourish–while still balancing the line between painting pictures and purple prose.
How does your protagonist see it?
This is where the importance of POV comes into play. If Will Traynor had been the narrator, the story world would have been much different. We would have seen it as he did: cramped and stifling, full of crushed dreams and embarrassment.
However, since Lou is the protagonist (both in the book and the movie), we see the world much differently. Since part of Lou’s character arc is realizing what is beyond her small town, we see the world as she does, initially. She sees it as a warm, charming place, full of family. Most of the beginning scenes (prior to Lou’s decision to take Will to as many places as possible) center around either her family’s home or the annex, where she works. Both places involve people, which is necessary to extroverted Lou Clark.
How does your protagonist contrast with the story world?
This is the most entertaining part of world building, in my opinion. Figuring out the role that your protagonist plays in their world is so crucial. Do they influence it? Do they mesh with it? Do they contrast with it? This doesn’t have to be in a major way.(No need to insert the cliche of ‘rebellious medieval girl far ahead of her times protests the perceived idiocy of arranged marriages.’)
In the case of Me Before You, the form of influence fits the story. There are no bombs to defuse, no government to overthrow, no world-shattering stakes. So Lou visually influences her story by marking herself as an outsider through her fashion. Compare her riotous dressing habits (bumblebee tights, anyone?) to the stark, businesslike lines of Mrs. Traynor’s wardrobe. In a town that was dominated by the drab, gray castle and traditionally rainy weather, Lou was a bright spot of ridiculous color and contrasting prints. This subtle decision hugely influenced our perception of her personality, which is a powerful tool to give to your readers/viewers.
Usually, setting serves as a mere backdrop to the wild adventures that our characters go through. Maybe if we take it a bit more seriously, as a tool to help our protagonists pop to life, then we can treat it as the playground of possibility that it is.