I found this article on the NYTimes. It was about one of my favorite shows, Modern Family, and how the settings in the show give away so much about the characters.
For example, right when you enter Phil and Claire's home, you are struck with a mix of Pottery Barn furniture, pictures along the stairwell, and a friendly amount of clutter. The atmosphere screams "YOUR CLASSIC AMERICAN FAMILY LIVES HERE!" On the other hand, Claire's father lives in an extremely contemporary, well kept house.
(A great thing I saw when reading the comments: People LIKE it when the setting corresponds to the characters. This in general goes back to our main point that most readers prefer a character's actions and happenings to make sense in terms of who they are.)
Although there are differences between movies, television shows, and books, I think that a setting can say so much. I thought of these questions in terms of my characters and hope they help:
- How is this character's living area indicative of his/her financial situation/preferences?
- Is she/he alone or have five roommates in the heart of San Francisco? (Ex. A struggling painter would probably not live by himself in a two bedroom place...a prosperous one might.)
- How does he/she get to work? What does he/she pass on the way? Any common stops?
- Do they like where they are?
- What hangs on his/her walls? Is the place cluttered, neat, or in the middle?
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*Picture from weheartit.com