|Are your details camouflaged?|
To create those details, I've been thinking heavily on the themes and ideas Place can inspire. My short story relies heavily on a street name and one word in a foreign language to bring about a transformation in my main character. That one detail grows into something rich that defines the entire story, becomes and connects the main character to her Place in a way that can't be torn asunder. Setting can be powerful that way.
We've all heard the phrase "can't see the forest for the trees," but sometimes it's important to slow down and really look at those individual trees. What kind are they? What lives in them? What treasures can be discovered--physically, emotionally, thematically--in those trees? Is the bark smooth, is it shaggy, is it peeling away? Those very different descriptions can parallel the journey your main character is going through. Peeling bark can hint at a character peeling away an old identity to reveal the new, improved (or not so improved) layer underneath, for example. Making connections like these helps ground your character in her or his Place and creates a character out of the setting, enriching the story as a whole.
I think to Charlotte Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper as a particularly excellent example of a single detail playing a major thematic role in a story. While a woman lies in confinement, she becomes obsessed with the pattern in the wallpaper, convinced it holds all manner of horrors. The color, the pattern and the smell all "contribute" to her descent into madness. Truly, it is nothing but paper, but the rich way the paper is manipulated turns it into a character, into something with reaching fingers, with prison-bars and the ability to carry themes (early feminism, depression, gothic horror, a critique of 19th century medicine) that help define the story.
Which books do you think effectively used setting as a character, as a thematic device, as a parallel to the character(s)' journey?