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Craft Questions #2: Setting

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Philip Overby, Jun 30, 2012.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Here's the second installation of Craft Questions. Just to see what other people think about important elements of the writing craft. Feel free to add more comments and discussion. You can view the thread about "Character" here: http://mythicscribes.com/forums/writing-questions/4063-craft-questions-1-character.html

    This installment is on setting.

    1. What kind of settings do you like to read about?

    2. What kind of settings do you like to write about (medieval, urban, alternate history, etc.)

    3. Does the setting play a huge part in your stories or is it more in the background?

    4. Will you get turned off of writing a story that has a setting you can't really connect with?

    5. Do you do tons of preparation (world-building) for you setting or do you just sort of build it from the ground up?

    6. Do you tend to go with a macro approach (dealing with whole countries, armies, etc.) or with a more micro approach (dealing with a small village and going from there) when it comes to showing your setting?

    7. Do you think lengthy prologues describing the setting help you get into a story more or don't really do anything for you?

    8. How do you come up with a setting? Do you borrow elements from history, from other stories, or do you try to come up with something that blends them all together? What's your most original and captivating setting in your mind?


    1. I like settings that are unique in some way. Like China Mieville's underground Bas Lag. Or the desert planet Dune. I also can deal with the typical medieval style setting, but the characters and plot have to be really good (see George R.R. Martin or Tolkien.) A vastly unique setting can draw me in to a story more than characters or plot if done correctly.

    2. I like writing settings that have trappings of our own world, but in a "fantasy" setting. I tend to try to write humorous stories in some way, so adding elements of real world bureaucracy is sometimes fun for me. I also like to write settings that are breeding grounds for all sorts of nastiness to be about (witches, trolls, swamp creatures, etc.)

    3. Setting plays a minor role in most of my stories, but I still think it's important to establish boundaries. Meaning if they are in one country, the setting should be played up. If they go to a different area inhabited by goblins or something, then the setting should be reflected that way.

    4. I don't typically get turned off by a weak setting. I do, however, get turned off by settings that seem to be direct rip-offs of other settings. When I'm writing, I try to make my settings as different as possible, but still feel familiar. That's a hard task to accomplish.

    5. I used to go crazy with world-building, but now I sort of build as I go. I still do a fair amount of world-building but it's done as I'm writing the story. Just sitting around writing about a whole world without knowing what the characters or plot are just doesn't appeal to me anymore.

    6. I'm sort of a minimalist when it comes to writing style nowadays, so I tend to want to go with "less epic" in my stories. There can be a sense of "epicness" but I like to slowly reveal the world as the characters go about instead of showing big political scenes or battles and such.

    7. No. I really don't like "exposition prologues." Basically that start off rattling off a bunch of names or countries I have no connection to. Revealing the setting piece by piece through character interaction seems the best bet for me.

    8. My settings tend to be loosely based off the real-world, but I try to add a bit of spice to them. Like something that seems anachronistic or sort of "off." I'm always intrigued by worlds where everything seems mostly normal but then there's some quirks to it that make it stand out more.

    Please feel free to discuss other people's answers. Thanks!
     
  2. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    1. What kind of settings do you like to read about?

    Any setting that gives me that sense of wonder. A setting that gives me a sense of depth even if all that depth isn't explored. Sometimes those places can be dark, sometimes they're light and fun.

    2. What kind of settings do you like to write about (medieval, urban, alternate history, etc.)

    Urban, Medieval, and SciFi, trying to impart the wonder I mentioned in 1. Sometimes it's dark. Sometimes it's light. Sometimes its a mix. It's like Joss Whedon says, "Find the sad in the funny and the funny in the sad."

    3. Does the setting play a huge part in your stories or is it more in the background?

    I'm not sure if it plays a big part. It's just there. It influences my characters and my characters influence it. I do tend to have a distinct feel, look, and personality I try to instil in the setting. It's a living, breathing entity to me.

    4. Will you get turned off of writing a story that has a setting you can't really connect with?

    No. Characters drive my interest in a story.

    5. Do you do tons of preparation (world-building) for you setting or do you just sort of build it from the ground up?

    I do significant prep but about half of that gets written over. As I write and rewrite, I learn more about the world and story and I layer the new over the old because it's better than my initial ideas.

    6. Do you tend to go with a macro approach (dealing with whole countries, armies, etc.) or with a more micro approach (dealing with a small village and going from there) when it comes to showing your setting?

    I start small and build off of that, revealing more and more as my characters goes through the story.

    7. Do you think lengthy prologues describing the setting help you get into a story more or don't really do anything for you?

    If that's its whole purpose, I say frakk off don't bore me. On the other hand, if it's to set up a complex political situation between countries, families, etc., I can live with that.

    8. How do you come up with a setting? Do you borrow elements from history, from other stories, or do you try to come up with something that blends them all together? What's your most original and captivating setting in your mind?

    I beg, borrow, and steal the parts to my setting and I use my imagination to piece them together based on the needs of the story. My most original and captivating setting, with all bias intact, I'd say all of them. Otherwise, I wouldn't be writing about them. :p
     
  3. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    1. What kind of settings do you like to read about?
    I like two kinds of settings: completely unlike Earth settings, and very well-crafted, non-medieval European settings. The first one, stories that take place in a world unlike ours, that's something I love. I mean, our world is cool. But damn, why write in another world if it isn't really a different world? Otherwise, I'll take something different. I'll read medieval fantasy, and I'll read pseudo-historical fantasy if that's what there is. But very historically rich, well-researched settings are enjoyable - Guy Gavriel Kay does this very well. I like non-Western cultures in particular, since I've just read so much European stuff, but I must say I've never read one set in a counterparty!colonial America, so I'd make exceptions to the non-Western rule.

    2. What kind of settings do you like to write about (medieval, urban, alternate history, etc.)?
    Same as above. Other world. And I have one historical/medieval fantasy novella, too, though even that follows the "rigidly historical" rule, to the point where I figured out when the full moons were in a few centuries ago.

    3. Does the setting play a huge part in your stories or is it more in the background?
    Depends on the story. Some of them are very character-oriented. But my current big project is joined only by the fact that all the stories take place in the same setting, and even though the stories themselves do not always focus on the settings, it dictates what sort of stories get told. Since the premise is 'sound = magic', the protagonists tend to have some some sort of unique sound quality. Muteness, deafness, or they just have perfect pitch.

    4. Will you get turned off of writing a story that has a setting you can't really connect with?
    Not necessarily. As long as the characters are interesting. I don't really care much about medieval Italy, but I'm still writing about it.

    5. Do you do tons of preparation (world-building) for you setting or do you just sort of build it from the ground up?
    Depends on the story. Sometimes I wing it completely, sometimes I spend months working on it.

    6. Do you tend to go with a macro approach (dealing with whole countries, armies, etc.) or with a more micro approach (dealing with a small village and going from there) when it comes to showing your setting?
    This, too, depends on the story. If I am writing a story about a big war and neighbouring nations battling for the throne and epic journies and adventures, then the macro is important. Maps and whatnot have a purpose. If I am writing about a couple of guys trapped in a cave or in a gladiator tournament, it probably won't matter as much.

    7. Do you think lengthy prologues describing the setting help you get into a story more or don't really do anything for you?
    They don't do it for me. Unless, I guess, it was a haunted house novel or something. But rarely is the setting so important that it warrants an introduction.

    8. How do you come up with a setting? Do you borrow elements from history, from other stories, or do you try to come up with something that blends them all together? What's your most original and captivating setting in your mind?
    Usually the latter, and the aforementioned "soundworld". Influence from all over the world and all throughout time, and the main focus - the sound thing - has lead to a lot of interesting worldbuilding elements. Also, most of the animals in the world come from the sort of caveman era, so we get sabretooths and mammoths and other good stuff. Marsupial lions are my favourite. <3
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2012
  4. studentofrhythm

    studentofrhythm Minstrel

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    1. What kind of settings do you like to read about?
    Any setting that is well-described can pull me in and win me over, I think. But I'll always enjoy settings that provide for a lot of outdoor and wilderness scenes. Descriptions of landscape, terrain, vegetation, animals and weather always fire my imagination. I've come to enjoy tropical or hot weather settings more than I did, I think. I've also grown in appreciation of stories set in old cities with dark forgotten or secret places, like The Phantom of the Opera, Relic and Reliquary. And then there's Sandman – I could not get enough of the dream world.

    2. What kind of settings do you like to write about (medieval, urban, alternate history, etc.)
    I had fun using a stone age setting for NaNoWriMo one year, and the setting was a very important element in making a story that I still believe in; it's just on the back burner for now.

    Now I'm trying to do more with early modern-style urban settings (without the underground secret places but with a good dose of grit and vice). It's an invigorating challenge.

    3. Does the setting play a huge part in your stories or is it more in the background?
    It's pretty important, like in that stone age novel. For my current novel I was working on the setting for years before I finally found a story to go in it.

    4. Will you get turned off of writing a story that has a setting you can't really connect with?
    Yes. I don't have to know it like the back of my hand, but I have to feel either affinity or familiarity to some degree. The novels I've drafted that take place in the real world have all been set in places I've really lived.

    5. Do you do tons of preparation (world-building) for you setting or do you just sort of build it from the ground up?
    Tons of preparation, maybe too much – although for my stone-age story I only did about a month's worth of world-building.

    6. Do you tend to go with a macro approach (dealing with whole countries, armies, etc.) or with a more micro approach (dealing with a small village and going from there) when it comes to showing your setting?
    Macro first. I typically draw a map of a continent then zoom in on an area.

    7. Do you think lengthy prologues describing the setting help you get into a story more or don't really do anything for you?
    I think for me they do help, although I greatly admire the skill some authors have of integrating setting descriptions, exposition &c. in the normal flow of narrative and dialogue. But there is something refreshingly direct about a story that says: “look, here's where, here's what, here's who. Now let's go.”

    8. How do you come up with a setting? Do you borrow elements from history, from other stories, or do you try to come up with something that blends them all together? What's your most original and captivating setting in your mind?
    I do borrow a lot, but I try to compost the things I borrow so it's not quite so obvious that here's a Russian analogue, there's a Spanish one, etc. At some point I try to cast off the moorings and let a culture or place be itself: it started off as a Zoroastrian Bulgaria but now it is just what it is. If it still looks kind of like a Zoroastrian Bulgaria, then that's fine, but at least I don't want to restrict it to doing only the things that its model would do.

    For my stone age story I did leave the resemblances to American Indian cultures (as I know them) deliberately obvious. And I think I would probably consider that setting my most original and captivating. It has neolithic technology alongside magic that enables flight and instant long-distance communication.
     
  5. Kevlar

    Kevlar Troubadour

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    1. What kind of settings do you like to read about?

    In the end, any setting put together well enough for me to believe it could be real. I seem to gravitate a little more to low magic, but high magic works just fine for me too. I do have a weakness for wilderness, having always preferred the rural life or camping o spending alot of time in the city, but really I'm not so picky about this. It just has to be decent.

    2. What kind of settings do you like to write about (medieval, urban, alternate history, etc.)

    Mine typically follow a European guideline, but unlike most I really don't care for the High Middle Ages when compared to the Dark Age or Early Middle Ages.

    3. Does the setting play a huge part in your stories or is it more in the background?

    The setting plays both roles, but while a setting can exist without a story the story can't exist without a setting. A different one, sure, but for my main project that story would have to be set in a hugely similar setting with a hugely similar history for me to justify the existance of the plot.

    4. Will you get turned off of writing a story that has a setting you can't really connect with?

    Probably, to some degree, but an engaging plot and characters can make up for it.

    5. Do you do tons of preparation (world-building) for you setting or do you just sort of build it from the ground up?

    I sort of work both ways. I'll do real worldbuilding efforts for weeks at a time and then I'll write something and build what I need, or vice versa. I don't have a set way to tackle this.

    6. Do you tend to go with a macro approach (dealing with whole countries, armies, etc.) or with a more micro approach (dealing with a small village and going from there) when it comes to showing your setting?

    Both, really.

    7. Do you think lengthy prologues describing the setting help you get into a story more or don't really do anything for you?

    A prologue that describes the setting isn't for me. I'd rather discover the world naturally.

    8. How do you come up with a setting? Do you borrow elements from history, from other stories, or do you try to come up with something that blends them all together? What's your most original and captivating setting in your mind?

    I don't know how my wind works. Honestly. I don't usually choose to start a world based on this or that or using this as a theme or that as inspiration, It just happens. And if I do happen to start with a theme or general inspiration my mind purverts and corrupts it until what ties it to the original is holding on by bare fibres.

    Oh wait I missed a part. My most original and captivating setting so far? Probably one of the ones I threw away over the years, like thae fantasy set in a world with completely alien biology. For originality, that is. My favourite is the one that's grown with me for the last seven years, changing so much from the original as to be unrecognizeable. It's hard to set an exact reference date for it unless going by region, but the kingdom the story starts in would be in Europe's eleventh or twelfth century. It's designed as low-magic, though there are certain abuses that will eventually cause a certain faction to have a relatively high amount of magic. This is inconsequntial to the fact, however, that it is built specifically to facilitate the story I have in mind about war, action, politics, assassination and personal vendetta, while still allowing me to write it in a personal way.
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2012
  6. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Maester

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    1. I'm kind of bland with setting. I prefer a medieval European setting, or really anything with a medieval-level of technology. Big fan of sword fights.;) High magic or low magic is fine with me.

    2. Same as #1.

    3. Yes, specific places play big parts.

    4. I do get turned off by many settings. I'm not a fan of steampunk or urban fantasy. I like more traditional settings. However, I did pick up Mistborn on recommendations from MS, and loved it.

    5. I try to do a little world building before, but most of it is done as I go.

    6. As far as settings go, it depends on the book. But most is at a micro level when it comes to settings. I'm trying to show events like battles on both a micro and macro scale in my writing, which is something I think most traditional fantasy lacks.

    7. I like prologues, but not ones that are solely based on the setting.

    8. All of the above. Most of the settings I spend a lot of time thinking about are strategic points for a battle. Specific defensive measures for castles, for example.
     
  7. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

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    1. What kind of settings do you like to read about?

    I like unique and unusual settings, too. I like absurd, detailed, busy, mysterious, or scary places. Clive Barker's Abarat, Garth Nix's Old Kingdom, the place where the Rats of NIMH lived in Robert C. Obrien's book, and Southern gothic settings I've read in various short stories.

    To me, the most memorable fantasy novels have unique settings as well. These are all fantastic settings: the Wizarding world, Oz, Fantasia, Middle-earth, Earthsea, the settings for The Books of the New Sun and the Black Company series. I'm sure others could think of dozens more. My point is that these books wouldn't stick in my mind if the settings were generic. The setting is part of the fantasy, and neglecting it is neglecting an opportunity to allow the reader to plant his feet firmly in the story.

    2. What kind of settings do you like to write about (medieval, urban, alternate history, etc.)

    I suppose medieval or renaissance era? I write stuff like fairy tales that take place in "distant lands" and in "olden times" but it's a little ambiguous. I also like the mid-to-late 1800s America and pre- or post-apocalyptic settings, but most of my stories are in modern times. Decay is common in my settings, from urban decay to ancient kingdoms with lost prestige.

    3. Does the setting play a huge part in your stories or is it more in the background?

    The atmosphere is important to me. I favor a sense of isolation and foreboding that is palpable to my characters. Other times, the setting is threatening in some way.

    4. Will you get turned off of writing a story that has a setting you can't really connect with?

    I scraped by once with a flash story that focused on the character's actions rather than emotions. The emotions and the setting are tied together for me, so when I'm lacking in one I'm lacking in the other. That story is my least favorite. It's cliché and horrible.

    5. Do you do tons of preparation (world-building) for you setting or do you just sort of build it from the ground up?

    Yes and no to both parts. I world build the heck out of my main project, but I wing it in stand-alone stories.

    6. Do you tend to go with a macro approach (dealing with whole countries, armies, etc.) or with a more micro approach (dealing with a small village and going from there) when it comes to showing your setting?

    Micro! I do short stories, which might be why, but even my novel concepts are limited in scope. Maybe I like to stifle my characters or maybe I like to thoroughly explore a place. It's a close-up instead of a bird's eye view.

    7. Do you think lengthy prologues describing the setting help you get into a story more or don't really do anything for you?

    Lengthy prologues describing anything go back on the shelf. I want to read a book, not a summary, an essay or a catalog of events, people and objects. I want to imagine I live in the author's setting. A prologue that features storytelling instead of description appeals to me.

    8. How do you come up with a setting? Do you borrow elements from history, from other stories, or do you try to come up with something that blends them all together? What's your most original and captivating setting in your mind?

    I'm not sure. They're probably an amalgamation of moods I've felt, places I've visited, locations I've read about, scenery in movies, and my imagination. They're heavily based on real places, though it's not done consciously from the start. I wouldn't say any of my settings are captivating on their own since it takes characters to bring them to life.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2012
  8. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    1. What kind of settings do you like to read about?

    The sky's the limit. Heck, even the sky could work as a setting.

    2. What kind of settings do you like to write about (medieval, urban, alternate history, etc.)

    I avoid urban. I'm currently working on a high fantasy/high school setting now.

    3. Does the setting play a huge part in your stories or is it more in the background?

    Current work: yes. It's the lifeblood of the story... I think. Or is it the foundation, and characters are the lifeblood? That makes more sense since a school has a foundation and the people who live there have blood.

    Um... huge part? Yes.

    4. Will you get turned off of writing a story that has a setting you can't really connect with?

    I connect with the story before writing so I won't have to worry about that.

    5. Do you do tons of preparation (world-building) for you setting or do you just sort of build it from the ground up?

    For the current, I created a school schedule just so I'll know who would be in each of the MC's classes. The reader doesn't need to see this detail, but since I've done scheduling in a real school it would be lazy for me to not prepare this.

    That said, I try not to overdo world-building. I just need to know what's possible and when characters are likely to run into each other. The plot is more character-driven than setting-driven.

    6. Do you tend to go with a macro approach (dealing with whole countries, armies, etc.) or with a more micro approach (dealing with a small village and going from there) when it comes to showing your setting?

    Micro. I start small.

    7. Do you think lengthy prologues describing the setting help you get into a story more or don't really do anything for you?

    I have a theme song! What? I do. I made up a theme song about a place then suddenly I had a story and now I'm writing it. So screw the prologue!

    8. How do you come up with a setting? Do you borrow elements from history, from other stories, or do you try to come up with something that blends them all together? What's your most original and captivating setting in your mind?

    Poetry and song inspired by something that happens to be on my mind at the time. Here's a poem I wrote that turned into a 155,000-word book:

    [video=facebook;127499289193]http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=127499289193&set=vb.572034193&type=2&permPage=1[/video]
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    1. What kind of settings do you like to read about?

    Err, ones with good characters in them?


    2. What kind of settings do you like to write about (medieval, urban, alternate history, etc.)

    I like to write about settings that are vivid and fantastic, and which tie into the makeup and magic of society. Straight plains and forests get boring for me to write about.


    3. Does the setting play a huge part in your stories or is it more in the background?

    My current MC has a philosophy of interacting with the setting, and with the level of action I like to include, I would almost call it a theme in my writing. I know it sounds counter intuitive for a lot of writers, but a strong setting gives me more potential for my stories.


    4. Will you get turned off of writing a story that has a setting you can't really connect with?

    Connect with? If I can't connect, it's probably written badly.


    5. Do you do tons of preparation (world-building) for you setting or do you just sort of build it from the ground up?

    I like to do the worldbuilding and to write about subjects I need to research, but at some point it becomes more a side-project. I'm okay labeling my notes with "figure this out at Chapter 5" and moving on.


    6. Do you tend to go with a macro approach (dealing with whole countries, armies, etc.) or with a more micro approach (dealing with a small village and going from there) when it comes to showing your setting?

    I believe it should start micro and finish micro, but it can be macro in between.


    7. Do you think lengthy prologues describing the setting help you get into a story more or don't really do anything for you?

    I hate that discussion. If the prologue works, keep it. If not then shove it.

    I think there's a misconception some people have about writing and readers. You don't usually write for just one kind of reader. A big reason that people include prologues isn't to introduce the setting but to introduce the antagonist, and that's extremely important for the type of reader who wants to catch a sense of the plot early on. In that sense, if your antagonist is a ways off and you still want to catch those readers, there might not be a choice.


    8. How do you come up with a setting? Do you borrow elements from history, from other stories, or do you try to come up with something that blends them all together? What's your most original and captivating setting in your mind?

    I create settings by trying to combine different elements together and reconciling ways to make them work. I talked about this recently in my case study - I take a basic story arch, and once I put some constraints on it, the setting starts to appear almost on its own.

    The craziest setting I've made was for a D&D game eons ago, set in a fantasy continent based on Native America. The characters soon found that they were seemingly under attack, but instead of the European settlers they were expecting, the attackers - and the fantasy elements they brought with them - were from the equivalent of a Japan with a WWII mindset.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2012
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