Writing about a setting

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Yora, Mar 4, 2018.

  1. Yora

    Yora Mystagogue

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    If I knew that then I wouldn't have to ask. :rolleyes:
     
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I think Chessie was asking what KIND of suggestions you were hoping for, not the exact suggestions themselves.
     
  3. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    This.
     
  4. Yora

    Yora Mystagogue

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    I had a long drive and the same route back today, which gave me a lot of time without distractions to think some more about it. And I think one trap that I stepped into with the goal of writing about a setting was to come up with a protagonist who is somewhat typical for the setting who is getting into an adventure that is somewhat typical for the setting. Even when I came up with simple plots that are finely constructed with care, they always felt like lacking a spark of awesomeness and wonder. They feel bland and hollow.
    Even with a highly creative setting, I think writing about what is normal within the setting doesn't make for much of a compelling story. Great stories of adventure are about extraordinary situations.
     
  5. raygungoth

    raygungoth Acolyte

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    John Updike has a bunch of really great stories about otherwise mundane situations - A&P is particularly good, in spite of, or perhaps because, his narrator objectifies the characters he sees. I've always been interested in the day-to-day running of a fantasy setting. Watching the earthbenders deliver mail and stone was far more interesting to me than the exploits of the heroes. Someday I'll write about how awesome the mail carriers are in my primary milieu.
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    I would submit that wonder and adventure are somewhat separate. The key to creating wonder is that the thing being described or experienced is new. It's new to the reader, which nearly always means it's new to the character. So we get Frodo and Sam in Rivendell. We get Harry Potter at school for the first time. Because it's new, the author can take the time for description and for the character's reaction to all that is new. It is, in other words, inherently slow.

    Adventure, otoh, is fast. We don't have time for detailed descriptions. Here I would contrast Bilbo's first encounter with Smaug, which is a static conversation. In fact, we get the description of Smaug while the dragon is still sleeping. The action comes later, when Bilbo hot-foots it out. No time for describing the scenery there.

    So your story can have both adventure and a wondrous setting. You just want to lavish as much care on the one as on the other.
     
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  7. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Scribal Lord

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    Usually when I contemplate a setting, be it for fantasy or a historical culture and period, I get tons of ideas about stories that can be set in that setting. If you feel so inclined, write an overview of the setting and perhaps we can offer some more details? I think however that one of the reasons that, at least I work that way, can come up with many stories is that I'm fascinated by the setting and wants to tell people about it. Thus I get all these kind of stories circling around one or another of the different aspects of that setting.

    I'll give you an some examples of stories I want to write about the Lelantine War (in early Archaic Greece)

    A Man's Arms - a youth comes into age to bear arms for his city and is instructed by his father and mother

    The Widow's Curse - a widow seeks revenge when her menfolk refuses to risk their standing to help her

    The Old olive Grove - about a grove of olive trees that sees ages come and go and the war rage around them

    The Spirit of Ares - a group of warriors are overtaken by bloodlust to commit an attrocity and must find a way to live with their shame

    A Samosian Bride - a marriage between leading families on Samos and the city of Chalcis to further the ties between the two poleis

    I feel I must in a way disagree with this. What makes for good stories of adventure seems to me to be about extraordinary situations...for the reader's PoV. I think that having perfectly "normal" things going on in your world can make for good stories if it's exciting for the reader.

    Even a bland story written well will read better than a story about some excellent things, written poorly. Personally I wouldn't be so concerned to find this story that makes the difference as opposed to pick a story that can keep your own interest and write that story well.
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  8. Yora

    Yora Mystagogue

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    I did here. If there's anything in particular you'd be curious about I'd gladly add to it.
     
  9. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Scribal Lord

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    I think that looks like an excellent setting for adventure stories. So I hope you'll get to develop it by telling stories within it.

    One thing I kind of sense is that spirits occupy a central place given their seemingly enviromental capabilities which offers human society its foundation to exist on. So perhaps you could expand a little on them? Do they look like embodiments of nature, are they like humanoids with weird features, or what's the deal as you imagine that they exists? How do humans interact with them and how distant are they from humans in case of mentality and motivations?

    And how does religion interact with spirits, given that mankind seems to worship the spirits that allow civilization to exist? Is religion a way to communicate with spirits and if so are some spirits hostile to mankind because they will it, or because there's no means of communication between mankind and the spirits? Communication and lack of it could for example by a theme in your stories and how it creates or dissolves conflicts. If you're interested in soft solutions to conflicts as opposed to sword-waving and slain bad guys.
     
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istari

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    I haven't followed the entire thread, but this jumped out at me as being really on-point.

    I think an earlier comment mentioned showing the characters experiencing wonder, as a method of making the setting wondrous for the reader. This approach is one I love, and I usually use Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy as a prime example. Everything from that scene where the Fellowship is on a river and sees those giant statues, to their stepping into that great, columned hall in Moria, to the final scene with Mt. Doom erupting and the reactions from the Fellowship fighting at a distance from the eruption--and much more besides--shows the power of having your main characters experience awe. We, the viewers, are right there with them.

    But ultimately a reader's sense of wonder is the most important thing, regardless of whether a POV character also experiences awe. There are many examples in cinema of this approach, also. Usually, the main character is presented as someone who is jaded, bored, or in some kind of rut within a fantastic setting. The first example that comes to my mind now is the character Korben Dallas from The Fifth Element. He wakes up and goes through his normal routines and doesn't seem to notice how fantastic and weird his situation is, in that tiny apartment with its weird gadgets and his cigarette that is almost all filter, heh. But we viewers see all that. For my personal self, even the fact that anyone could be entirely blind to the wondrous nature of his environment....is a wondrous thing. My attention is also on Korben Dallas, because I am fascinated by the why and how of his lack of awareness, heh.

    Movies have the added benefit of being a "third-cinematic POV," so we viewers can get to see all the wonderful things even if the character doesn't notice. Still, prose can do the same sort of thing, even a close limited third or jaded, bored first person, because readers are always, always separate from what's going on in the story, regardless of how "close" we feel. A part of our mind notices all those little things even if the POV character skims over them or takes a very casual, lack-of-awe approach in interacting with his wondrous environment.
     
  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istari

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    Maybe what you are lacking is conflict of some sort. Where's the conflict, the friction, the razor's edge that will leave you and the readers wondering What does this all mean, what's going to happen, how will this end?

    There are sometimes the pseudo-conflicts, like generic conflicts--world is going to end, omg!--that aren't really conflicts.

    There are many ways to find/create interesting conflicts, and different types of conflict. I'd suggest maybe exploring the MICE quotient that PenpilotPenpilot linked earlier.

    M is for milieu, which is basically setting/world/context. An interesting conflict based on milieu might be: When something dies, it doesn't decompose. This thought came to me after learning that the earliest trees on Earth didn't decompose because the fungi (microbes?) that do that now didn't exist yet (or couldn't handle the material of those trees.) So the trees piled up, heh. Anyway, if you had a weird milieu with "nothing decomposes when it dies" as a feature, this would set up an interesting conflict/question: OMG how does this affect the environment? An added bit of interest would be to have intelligent beings on that planet whose entire culture revolved around the fact that nothing decomposes. We readers would have the conflict, "But what do they do with their dead family members? Thousands of soldiers dying on a battlefield? Etc.?" Then you could weave all these workarounds/consequences into the plot, also.

    An idea conflict, character conflict, event conflict could be conceived for other types of approaches (I.C. or E.) than a story based on milieu.

    It's these little questions that make a story interesting.
     
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  12. Yora

    Yora Mystagogue

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    I think that's the difference between cataloging a world and proper worldbuilding. The map and borders are irrelevant, and so is almost all of the history. What matters in worldbuilding is establishing the rules and patterns by which the world is working. When the setting is supposed to be the center of the story, then the conflicts probably need to revolve around these peculiar contexts and circumstances.
     
  13. Helen

    Helen Mystagogue

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    You manipulate it. It's the features of the setting that are important. It may help to think of the setting as having a function; give it function.
     
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