Does your setting own you?

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xouba
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Does your setting own you?

Post by xouba » May 13th, 2010, 1:21 am

I sent this to Nathan because I thought it'd make for a good "You tell me", but he suggested I posted it here instead. So, without further ado, the question: does your setting own you?

A lot of times, I start a new project with an idea. A character or a situation, most often. Before start writing the story, I try to develop the setting. And then, I get so involved in developing the setting that the original idea gets lost amidst the constraints and rules of the setting, all to maintain coherence. So to speak, the story becomes a slave to the setting, and it's the story who has to bow to what the setting says, instead of the setting being a support for the story. Things that I liked about characters get dropped because they don't fit into the setting; things that I wanted to put into the background of the story have to be scrapped, because they don't fit into the setting; cool ideas that I had have to be discarded, all in name of Lady Coherence and Lord Setting.

When that happens, the idea that drove me has changed so much that has become unattractive, and that means filing the project under the always so big "Unfinished" folder.

Has this happened to you?

Thanks in advance.

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Does your setting own you?

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » May 13th, 2010, 9:08 am

Well, you're writing a story, not a setting. If there's a conflict, change the setting, not the story. Or better yet, you might be served well by simply not spending so much time on developing the setting at the beginning. I have certain ideas before I start writing, but the rest I develop as I write - that way it serves the story. The story creates the world, rathern than the world boxing in the story. Now, the inventions as I go along have to make sense, have to fit together. You don't want deus ex machina, with fortuitous miracles dropping out of the sky all the time. It has to have coherence. But if you build as you go your setting won't bend your story out of shape. And even if you develop a lot beforhand... it's not set in stone. Setting can be changed as easy or easier than the story. You know you have to edit stories, but you might have to edit your world, too.
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

Ermo
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Re: Does your setting own you?

Post by Ermo » May 13th, 2010, 10:23 am

I have the opposite problem I think. I'll write and write and write and then my alpha and beta readers will say, I like the story but I have no idea where they are, what things look like, what season it is, etc... I end up with 50,000 word books with almost no setting and then I have to go back and put it in, which isn't all that easy. Maybe we should co-author...

heather_hangs_it
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Re: Does your setting own you?

Post by heather_hangs_it » May 13th, 2010, 10:27 am

This hasn't happened to me - yet. But it could. I'm a very detail-oriented writer (I know that's probably a ridiculous statement, I'm sure most writers are), so I think I have a tendency to put too much detail into different aspects of my story. I can see myself getting caught up in the setting if I'm not careful. I definitely agree with Ink - don't bend your characters around your world. Bend your world around your characters. You are the creator, after all. If anyone can do it, revamp whole civlizations, change the cycles of the moon or the color of the grass, it's you! Good luck!

~heather

r louis scott
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Re: Does your setting own you?

Post by r louis scott » May 13th, 2010, 10:41 am

I have a very detailed map in my head regarding my setting. I can zoom in on the junction of the roads to the north, or I can zoom out to see where my protagonist's journey will take him. I can see the fish pond where he catches his lunch one day and the house of the woman he is interested in. Except for actual geography and known locations of Roman roads, however, the map is all in pencil, and I have a marvelously large and efficient eraser.

Re-writing and editing isn't only for grammar, it's for cohesiveness too. Use a pencil, not ink, to define your setting. Change it to fit the story.

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Quill
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Re: Does your setting own you?

Post by Quill » May 13th, 2010, 10:45 am

I, too, like to know my entire world, but then drip-feed it into the story. I keep the setting very close to the action by supplying details along the way rather than blocks of description in paragraphs of their own.

bcomet
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Re: Does your setting own you?

Post by bcomet » May 13th, 2010, 10:46 am

Great topic, exouba!

Ermo, you made me laugh.

I like to blend fictional place with actual place.
I use actual place for research and color and for lifting off the real world into the fictional world.
But sometimes an idea requires a shift in place.

For example, I have a story that includes a road trip where the characters bond and grow, but in the the real place I started out in, I have found precious little from my online research of the actual place that I can use for lift off or that I can weave in with. I know I could actually go there but it would take time and money I don't have. So, in that story, I am seriously considering moving the road trip to another setting. I'm still undecided. But, as you put it, the first attachment to a setting can be very difficult to shake off too.

heather_hangs_it
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Re: Does your setting own you?

Post by heather_hangs_it » May 13th, 2010, 10:54 am

Hey, bcomet, just out of curiosity - where's the setting for the current road trip?

~heather

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polymath
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Re: Does your setting own you?

Post by polymath » May 13th, 2010, 11:29 am

Setting genre is not nearly as common as character genre, and not quite as common as idea or event genre. Setting, though, does play pivotal roles in most marketplace category genres: Science fiction, fantasy, horror, Western, action-adventure, thriller, historical, and somewhat less, per se, preeminence in mystery and romance. Setting comes into play in a balanced weight with character, idea, and event in literary genre narratives.

Settings as times, places, and situations have character-like influences in narratives. The ideal is settings viewpoint characters are emotionally influenced by and emotionally interact with. Setting is as much a part of meaning space as other beings, objects, and animacy--the pecking order, in other words, that beings place on their enviroment. Deities often have higher pecking order than the self, as might mundane beings like officials, clergy, parents, spouses, bosses, etc. Who's and what's lower than one's self in one's pecking order? Places according to their situations and times have a subtle place in pecking order. Me, I'm first in priority in my meaning space. My carefully chosen residential setting is one that soothes my savage breast and doesn't inflict as much harm on me as other settings. In a meaningful way, my reality setting does own me, as much as I own it.

A thousand miles of monotonous evergreen tree-lined interstate highway has a noticeably credible interacting emotional influence, boredom that can cause lethargy, apathy, weariness, depression, inattention. Gustave Flaubert's Madam Bovary is depressed by the setting she lives in. It's not exciting, not as flattering of her as she wants.

Frank Herbert's Dune, a setting that shapes people into hardened survivors. Lord of the Rings' Middle Earth, a setting that inspires awe and wonder, pity and fear--empathy builders--poses antagonism, obstacles to surrmount, and so on. Amityville Horror and Pet Semetary, horror settings. John LeCarre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, patently Cold War-era Eastern Europe.

Setting preeminence is often seen in narratives with grand scales, sweeping vistas, wide-angle scopes, foreshortened focuses, and multiple central viewpoint characters, like War and Peace, Dune, The Sum of All Fears, and Lord of the Rings.

Setting, like character, event, and idea, contributes to causation, antagonism, and tension building. Setting also shapes characters as characters shape settings. If a setting isn't doing anything meaningful, it's a best practice to excise it, or recast so it does.
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bcomet
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Re: Does your setting own you?

Post by bcomet » May 13th, 2010, 12:24 pm

Really great points, Polymath.

Thinking more on this topic, if it is about world building, the world has to make sense. I recently read a popular book where at every obstacle, a magical remedy appears. It seemed to work for twelve year olds (target reader age for this book), but I found it made it harder to stay in the story or believe in its world.

A writer in one of my critique groups threw amazing elements into his first novel, but there were way too many - enough for ten novels.
All of them were great, but his world was overwhelmed with elements that made one time appearances. For his world building, taking several strong elements and repeating them while increasing their value factor would make the story stronger.

I have also had elements in my worlds that I've had to eliminate or change along the way to fit the world or make sense in it. But sometimes magic happens. For example, in a novel I wrote, I threw in a random tiny element once. The element made no sense to me, I just stuck it in. Later, when I was editing, I googled the element to see what I could discover about it that might make it mean something in the novel. In my research, I found something perfect and esoteric that fit it and, even though it was initially placed in the story in a totally unconscious way, it turned out to work very nicely inside it.

Likewise, I had a character in another novel who I said liked reading. Since there were no scenes in the novel where she read, I later decided to remove it.

heather_hangs_it,
The road trip in the story is a two week road adventure from Sault Ste. Marie to Banff. It's a novel I am mapping before I write -more of a future project that I am laying down the bones for. I was initially inspired to have it go over the Mackinac Bridge and land in Banff. But so far, I haven't been inspired by that route and am still exploring it as well as other options.

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