By: Elyse                Categories: Animation

The following is an excerpt from Set the Action!: Creating Backgrounds for Compelling Storytelling in Animation, Comics, and Games by Elvin Hernandez.  In Set the Action!, Elvin helps you understand the importance of background and setting  so that you can  focus your narrative and create an interesting storyline.

You are an individual, with specific tastes, morals, and ideology. Though one of many with similar problems, concerns, or personal triumphs to make you relatable to others, you are unique in that the way you deal with all those issues is specific to your needs. Because of this, you change depending on your environment as well as the situation you find yourself in.

Think about it: the way you would behave in school or at work changes depending on the situation. If you are meeting with your boss or your principal, you’d act a bit more seriously, and you’d definitely respond (ideally) with a bit more respect (or at least you’d be a bit more guarded about your dissidence). Whereas at break time or recess, when you are hanging out with your friends, you are a bit less guarded and allowed to be a bit more like “you.” Now say we remove you from work and place you in a bar or a club: your attitude changes completely, even if you are still with someone of authority. This is because the environment should invite relaxation and comfort; you are just hanging out, being casual (this is why so many business meetings tend to happen during lunches; it gives people the chance to speak a bit less formally and become less guarded . . . which can also work against them, if they’re not careful).

My point is that we adapt to our environments and that those environments become part of our personality.

Let’s take a character we might find in a comic or animated show:

Here we have a “Flash Gordon” type: a stoic, muscular hero, very much the kind of character you would find in a place like this:

Looking at this environment, we can make some assumptions not only about the character but also about the type of adventures we’ll be following as we continue the character’s narrative. However, take the same character and place him in the following environment:

Our hero would certainly stand out in this place—and he’d definitely have a problem fitting in with the background. That’s because the character is readily identifiable as an “action” character, so that placing him in an environment like this might be in contradiction to his nature. Yet there are stories you can tell here, and it still offers narrative opportunities for our character (we could have him establish a secret identity, or he could try to make misguided attempts to have a regular job while still being “super”—the sky’s the limit, really). We just have to let the character adapt (or try to adapt) to the environment and watch what happens next.

Excerpt from Set the Action!Creating Backgrounds for Compelling Storytelling in Animation, Comics, and Games by Elvin Hernandez © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Set the Action! can be purchased,, and wherever fine books can be found.

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