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Setting // Alternate Reality

Posted: January 26th, 2011, 2:19 pm
by AveryMarsh
I've been lurking around the forums for a couple months now and your discussions have been an immense help to me as a new writer. So first I just wanted to thank you all for being awesome. *bows*

I'm writing a YA novel about superheroes, totalitarian governments, and all that fun stuff. I know it's important to establish a setting, but how detailed do I have to be if it's set in an alternate reality? Do I need to come right out and state that's what it is, or can I let my readers figure it out?

The people wear blue jeans and school uniforms, live in brownstones, etc. The only difference between our world and theirs is that in ancient times a race of super-humans was sent to protect the people, so history is slightly different. The only differences in technology have to do with their kind (tests, special restraints just for them, etc.). The country that they live in is fictitious, created by one of the super-humans, who just basically took over a state and made it into their own country.

But do I need to come right out and say that? Or can I let the details speak for themselves?

I've only read a couple other books that were set in an alternate reality and though they didn't state so in the book itself, it did say that in the blurb. So any advice on how I should approach this? Or books I should check out?

Re: Setting // Alternate Reality

Posted: January 26th, 2011, 3:17 pm
by polymath
I consider setting an interacting character of a narrative. Setting descriptions, world building which doesn't influence characters' actions and reactions, introspections and conversations, and emotional sensations is to me empty prose. Setting description is Imagery, symbolism, also, where descriptions have inherent emotional meanings, like bleak settings set a mood, symbols represent intangibles, immaterial concepts, or ideals, like, say, statues and other iconography represent spiritual beings, concepts like patriotism, totalitarianism, or cardinal elementals like earth, water, wind, and fire.

Alternate reality world building with otherwise real-world realities like blue jeans juxtapose the exotic with the normal. Contrasts and comparisons are indicated. Not necessarily diametric contrasts, say, a contrast for blue jeans might recognize them as a conscious symbol of national pride, a national ritualized attire, an expected vocational attire like Western Business Formal's gray suit and red tie. Blue jeans might be a class stratification symbol, or a mandatory working attire for a class of skilled laborers, and wearing them when not of the social or vocational class a criminal act, for instance.

Re: Setting // Alternate Reality

Posted: January 26th, 2011, 5:27 pm
by Falls Apart
Readers are pretty smart, they can usually figure those things out. e.g. Hunger Games--no explicit statements of this-is-a-dystopia-and-it-stinks, because when they start hauling off children to kill each other, you kinda figure that out. However, you should make sure to introduce at least some of the "wierdness" early on; if, in chapter three, the main character's best friend picks up a car and nobody is surprised, the reader will be very confused. Good luck with your book; it sounds really fascinating.

Re: Setting // Alternate Reality

Posted: January 26th, 2011, 6:58 pm
by HillaryJ

Think of good SciFi/Fantasy/Historical books you've read. Context and dialogue will paint the scene. Characters facing different choices or having different reactions than might be expected in a real, contemporary setting showcase less visible, underlying differences.

Give the readers credit for catching on. If your early readers find some differences too vague or confusing, then maybe add some explanation.

Re: Setting // Alternate Reality

Posted: January 26th, 2011, 10:28 pm
by JohnDurvin
When you have a great setting that you've been developing, it's tempting to blurt out a description right at the beginning to set the stage. However, this technique is sometimes called "infodumping" and is generally frowned upon, especially in sci-fi. It's generally best to let everything come out through descriptions and conversations, hopefully avoiding the cliche of someone saying "as you know, aliens colonized the Earth years ago and gave humans advanced technology" (or whatever it is you're explaining.) On the other hand, if it's young adult you're writing, you might consider writing a little "introduction" seperate from the main novel that gives the history of the world, often presented as a historical document in-story. That same document could later be presented as something your young adult characters study in school, too.

Re: Setting // Alternate Reality

Posted: January 27th, 2011, 8:59 am
by Sommer Leigh
You don't have to give readers a history lesson, they'll pick it up along the way. Knowing how your alternate reality was formed is less important than believing in the reality of your book. People will accept super heroes pretty easily - other books have helped establish this concept as believable in fiction. Clues as to how it happened can be referenced in the story (a giant statue of the founder of the country in the middle of the city, for example) but I wouldn't bother with catching the reader up on world history. They'll pick it up along the way if you weave it in well.

Re: Setting // Alternate Reality

Posted: January 27th, 2011, 10:55 am
by AveryMarsh
Thank you all for your advice. My first draft (NaNo Version) had a lot of incluing rather than infodumping, but before I get too deep into this rewrite, I wanted to make sure I didn't need to be more upfront that it's not set in the future or the past, but now (well, actually, the not-so-distant past since it is in past tense) and not another world, but ours, just different.