Firefly Friday – Shiny! Using Setting to Illustrate Character

Welcome to the next installment of Firefly Friday, where we examine a writing tip chestnut and marry it to my favorite TV show Firefly to illustrate the tip.

Setting ain’t just a pretty backdrop. If done right, it can add multiple layers of meaning to your novel or even become a “character” in its own right. Setting can illustrate many things, but today we’ll focus on character.

We’ve heard it a million times: make your prose do double-duty. Setting can be one way to accomplish this. This is one of the things I loved about Firefly and why it can be watched over and over because each time you can discover something new.

Instead of showing clips today, it’ll be a series of pictures. This set illustrates Kaylee, the ship’s engineer. What can you tell about her personality from just seeing her quarters?

Inara leaving Kaylee’s room. No one else has their door decorated Kaylee in a hammock she’s strung up in the engine room, which she’s made into a second haven for herself. Anyone recognize the shout-out to Star Wars on the shelf behind her?
In her bunk. This setting also illustrated something new as the dress hanging there is a new addition to the room and shows how much that experience affected her (Shindig).  Contrast Kaylee’s bunk to the ship’s captain, Mal.

Now take a look at the Dining Room. It’s never said or pointed out but can you guess who painted the little flower vines up the walls and tried to make the room a little more homey?

The other character’s bunks/personal space also reflects their individual personalities, but I thought I’d focus today on just Kaylee.

Fan of the show? What other parts of the setting helped to illustrate character? What ways have you used setting to illustrate character in your WIP?

Leave a comment


  1. I like using setting to show emotion and characterizaiton. I spend a lot of time on google images to find the right setting or elements of a setting (because I’m not an interior designer). 🙂

    Great post!

  2. I never noticed the flower vines in the Dining Room! I love Kaylee. She cracks me up. Inara’s personal space is definitely her own. It’s all deep colors and kind of dark, which makes it more intimate-feeling.

    I need to whip out my DVD’s and watch this show again! Great post!

  3. R. K. MacPherson

     /  November 8, 2011

    There’s an segment in Finding Serenity, a collection of essays about the show, that talk about this as well. It’s well worth a Browncoat’s time. 🙂

    The only thing I noticed about Kaylee’s spaces (particularly the engine room) is it’s warm tones. The rust red in that compartment and the yellow tones in the galley are the warm hearts of Serenity–and Kaylee’s usually found in one or t’other.

    Really nice post! 🙂

  4. I’m loving this Firefly series! I’ve read through three of them now. 🙂

  5. Bob

     /  July 7, 2012

    What episode is that pic of inara leaving kaylee’s room from? I’m trying to get a good image of her sign, to recreate for a party.

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