Setting: Don’t Start Your Story Without It.

Sunday, March 15, 2009
My friend, Erin (who writes Paranormal, Sci Fi, and overall all amazing romance under the name Jackie Bannon), wrote an article for the January edition of our MRW writing group’s Newsletter, Impressions. It was so amazing and thought-provoking, I found myself still thinking about it the next morning.

In her piece about sci fi world building, she definitely broadened my horizons (yes, sorry, corny pun intended there) to make me realize there was so much more to think about when creating a galactic world than naming a few planets and sticking a couple of strange new creatures on them. Fictional or not, it was downright daunting. Upon reading the article, I threw my hands in the air, defeated, and said, “That’s it. I will never ever attempt to do something as in-depth and complex as that. I’ll just stay on my simple planet earth, thank you very much.” But the more I thought about it, the more I realized… it didn’t matter where my story took place, I still need to consider its world. I need to know about the place I put my characters, even in a mere earthling story.

Gravity, climate, atmosphere, time zone. Good Lord, I realized with a certain about of panic, the setting of my story could change the plot, the characters… my ENTIRE manuscript. But then I remembered a Nora Roberts book I read long ago (Sorry, can’t even remember the title now). There was a flashy, big-city-girl-type character that found her way down to Louisiana or some such swampy locale, and I remember her being so upset because the damp climate shot her expensive hair-do all out of sorts and made it frizz.

I could completely sympathize with this poor woman. Having naturally curly hair myself, I spend an unmentionable amount of time each morning in front of the mirror with blow dryer in hand, trying to manage my bangs to look how I want them, not just how nature thinks they should look. It’s a control issue. Control my hair, control my life. But as soon as I go on vacation with my husband to beautiful Branson, Missouri, I might as well throw my dad-gum blow dryer out the window. It’s useless.

There’s just something about the climate in that town that makes my hair frizz out and do whatever it wants. There I stand, in front of the Showboat Branson Belle, and I just want to get a cutsie picture taken with my sweetie on the deck in front of the sunset. But I can’t because I refuse to immortalize myself looking like Cousin It’s ugly step sister in some cheap cardboard-framed photo that’ll cost me thirty bucks or more to buy. It makes me feel so frustrated, and helpless, and scared that I’ve lost that small piece of control on my life. I can’t understand why, why, why this has to happen to me.

But as Erin says in her article, it’s all about the solar system and the position of the earth, causing gravity’s pull to form mountains and valleys in their respective places, directing the flow of water and precipitation and making climates and atmospheres. Everything really does affect everything else. There’s this huge world out there, and I’m just a small little cog. A nothing.

So, now I have a completely new appreciation for setting. It’s a lot bigger than I’ll ever even begin to imagine. But never fear. It can be used as one of the most handy tools in a storyteller’s arsenal and it doesn’t have to be complex or scary. Nora Roberts was able to use it with one tiny detail like a bad hair day to reach out and connect with a reader—me—so I could bond with her character and feel a part of what she felt. After reading about another woman—even a mere fictional woman—experiencing something I’ve experienced and feeling what I’ve felt, I wasn’t so alone in my situation. There are others out there just like me, doomed to suffer through bad hair days because of no fault of their own making. I’m not such a nothing after all.

What a liberating experience. And I had it all because Nora Roberts thought to consider the alignment of the solar system and gravity’s pull on earth, causing… well, maybe she didn’t go that deep into it, but she did have a very real sense of setting and climate.

Put that way, it sounds so simple and easy to do. It makes me eager to try something like it in one of my tales. Now, I just hope I remember I said that when I start my next story. (Egads!)

Location, Location, Location. It really does affect your plot and characters and makes a difference in your story. If you don’t believe me… Just talk to Erin.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog- so cool and very true!

    My hair is a friz ball- so I simply get it cut for wave, scrunch and go- I'm easy that way. ;)