So yesterday I talked about things to consider when building a place/setting (And totally forgot language, which I am thoroughly ashamed of). Today I want to talk about how you use a setting to its fullest potential. Because a setting in a book isn't like the painted wood trees in an elementary theater performance—it's living and breathing and waited to be interacted with, and also to act upon your characters.
It's one thing to describe a festival in your book—and an entirely different thing to have your characters be at the festival and do things at the festival. Of course description is included in this said festival scene, but it also comes alive as your characters participate. The festival becomes a real thing.
I suppose it comes down to that whole Show vs. Tell thing. There are certainly times for both, but showing setting details when you can brings a world to life. I mean, let's look to the great JK Rowling for this a second. She talked about the big quidditch cup tournament, but then she also showed the tournament. For me, that's when the excitement and reality of it happened. Same with the Tri-Wizard tournament. And the Basilisk. And the pollyjuice potion. And the owls. Even down to wands choosing their wizards.
This also goes for characters. They shouldn't be plunked into a setting and not have been impacted by that place. For it to feel like a fully realized world, the characters have to truly be part of that world. This probably sounds obvious, but it doesn't hurt to give it a little extra thought.
For this I'm going to reference The Hunger Games. Like Katniss or not, she is truly a product of her world. She was never my favorite person, but I fully believed in the person she was and understood why she was making the choices she did. Not only that, but I wasn't a girl plucked out of now and placed in a novel. I can't think of anything place but District 12 as Katniss' home. That takes a lot of skill!
And finally, a setting should impact the plot. Also obvious, but if a story can be set anywhere, why set it in a fantasy world, you know? The things characters have to work through must be integral parts of the world. Like in Dune—the spice, the worms, the fremen, the politics—they served the plot just as much as the characters.
So as important as building a place is, using that place is what makes a novel magical.