From the list of screenwriting techniques from the Gideon Media and Film Festival, the third technique you can work with to enhance your story is using setting to make a difference in your story.
3. Setting should be specific and used to deepen characterization and conflict, not just a place to plop characters. Setting influences the storyline because it influences the lifestyle of the characters, and it affects their needs and wants or their ability to reach these goals.
All Writers know that in fiction “setting” means establishing a sense of place. You don’t want “talking heads,” characters having a conversation where the reader can’t envision where the characters are. Not only in a little town or the bustling city, but the kind of town and what part of the big city is important. Take the TV show and movie, Sex in the City, and move it from the bustle of Manhattan---Fifth Avenue, Central Park, Wall Street—to the Bowery or to Harlem. The story would change. Crime might be more prevalent, the women’s glamorous, professional lives would be downplayed, and the situations might be dealing more with lack of money or fear of being out at night. They would be dropping by sleazy bars, approached by panhandlers, and eating in diners. I think you can see the difference, and that’s just taking them from one part of the city to the other.
So where you set your story also provides a “tone.” A small town atmosphere, where everyone knows everyone, would create a story much different from an urban area where the person is lucky to know the neighbor. In a small town, gossip, nosey neighbors, people helping people, secrets, tradition, fighting change, etc. would be characteristics that would influence the plot and the conflicts. Secrets are easier to hide in the city but not in a small town where everyone knows everything.
Setting allows you to create unique secondary characters who bring with them interesting subplots---the nosey neighbor in the next apartment to the crotchety old man who runs the candy shop.
Beyond a sense of place, setting can deepen characterization by allowing the reader inside the head of the character reacting to the setting---a young woman who feels stifled in the small town, the man caught up in a high-powered job who longs to open a garage in his small hometown in the mountains. It reflects the attitudes of the characters played against the attitudes and social/political influences of the. And finally, use setting to reflect the character’s mood and emotions. I’ve written on this before. A woman gazes at the sun as a cloud passes over it, and shadows fall over her. She shudders, knowing that her own sunny spirit has been darkened by the abandonment of her husband. This is one example but I know you can think of many.
Think of movies you’ve seen --- rain in sad scenes, sun in happy ones, panning cameras over the sweep of landscape to reflect loneliness, dark basements or attics to reflect fear, a shadowy figure through a shower curtain (think Psycho). The impact of setting on plot and characterization can be very effective.