Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Back on the Blog Chain: Setting

It's time again for another Blog Chain post. For this round, Alyson wants us to discuss setting:

How important is setting when crafting a story? How do you choose where your stories take place? How do you research setting? Do you have to have been somewhere in order to write about it? What are some memorable settings from books you've read?

Lots of questions here! I'll answer them in order.

1. How important is setting when crafting a story?--It's usually not the first thing I think of when I get a story idea; instead I may focus on characters or plot. When I first started writing, my initial drafts had very little setting. As I've learned more about writing, I've discovered how setting and character influence each other. Setting is especially important in speculative fiction, since the stories may occur in a world much different from our own. However, sometimes the settings are a minor part of the story. For instance, the first draft of Lyon's Legacy had my heroine going to 1962 Liverpool to meet the Beatles before they became famous. In later drafts, I decided to make my heroine's ancestor a fictional person instead, so I changed Liverpool to Chicago. I had to change details, but the overall plot didn't change much.

2. How do you choose where your stories take place?--It depends on the story. Sometimes I get ideas for stories within one of the worlds I've already created, so I already know the setting. In fact, if I have a story idea for an anthology, I try to fit the story idea into a world I'm already familiar with so I have less work to do. (This especially helps if I'm trying to meet a deadline.) I did this with my short story "The Book of Beasts," which is set in the Season Lords universe. Sometimes I get an initial story idea and then build the world as I build the plot. If possible, I get setting ideas from places I already know so I can include realistic details. Here's an odd example: as the mother of a young son, I've taken him to lots of places where there are big inflatable playhouses for the kids. Sometimes he drags me into the bouncy house with him. It's a setting that's strange and colorful yet a little creepy when you're lost in a plastic labyrinth. I've wanted to set a story in one for a long time, and I finally came up with the idea of using it with some of my characters from the Catalyst Chronicles series. That story is currently in rough draft mode.

3. How do you research setting?--It depends on the setting. My fantasy Season Lords series is set in a country similar to Victorian England (I came up with this idea before steampunk became popular, but as it was one of the first books I wrote, it needs a lot of work), so for this one, I read about the period and visited old homes from the era. For real settings, like 1962 and 1980 Chicago, I use Google to help me find images from the era.

4. Do you have to have been somewhere in order to write about it?--Well, as a science fiction/fantasy writer, I have to say no. The key is to find real-world analogues that can inspire you with the appropriate sensory details. For instance, looking at old homes and clothes can give me a feel for heavy wool dresses and climbing up steep, narrow, dimly lit stairs. If I'm writing about spaceships, I may think about specific areas of the ship--such as the garden where much of the food is grown--and think of greenhouses, humid air, and the smell of plants to make the garden feel real for my characters.

5. What are some memorable settings from books you've read? The land of Oz and Valdemar from Mercedes Lackey's books come to mind.

For more about setting, please check out Kate's post from yesterday.  Christine will tackle this topic tomorrow.

1 comment:

Margie Gelbwasser said...

I'm like you in that I always think of characters and plot first. I usually write contemp, so world building is not such a necessity. BUT, I like to see the place I'm writing about whether I include it or not and it somehow gets conveyed.

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