Tuesday, September 17, 2013

That Wonderful Setting...

Recently I have come aware that many writers often abuse the setting of their world for what it really could be.  A setting shouldn't just be what a character sees when he looks around, all those useless, irrelevant facts - even the interesting irrelevant facts.  But they're all useless - they add absolutely nothing to the story.


I hope you aren't wanting a short answer, because I'm just getting started.
Take, for example, this short scene.

"The City of Fardell, standing high upon a jag of rock, overlooks
the Hill of Caldune and the endless, mesmerizing forest, seemingly
only a mossy floor from a peak so high.
Darian cast his gaze elsewhere, unsettled at the sight of a heavy fog
stretching its snaking fingers across the earth.  Above him, close enough
that he felt a simple raise of a hand would touch with the aether, were gloomy,
inky clouds, billowing and rumbling as they careened across the skies.
Small dragons, spiked on wings, back, head, limbs and covered in a thick
black hide sped across the darkening sky.  Scree dragons by name, a small but
vicious and poison brood.  They flocked over the city of Fardell, screeching
a high pitched wail.
What had brought so many as of late to Fardell was beyond anyone's guess,
nevertheless, there they were, and trouble like none before was brewing.
Brewing in the depths of the earth and reaches of the aether.
And then, the city heard them.  The Aetherbrood."

What do we know about Fardell now?  We know the names of surrounding locations, a bit about a species of dragons, and then, of course, we were left at a dead drop as to what these "Aetherbrood" are.  But honestly, aside from the dragons and these strange other creatures, what does this world do to effect Darian, our main character?  It doesn't change him - nor does it even look as though he could be possibly forced to change solely because of the setting.  The key thing to this is that even if the "Aetherbrood" and these "Scree Dragons" are unique and special to Fardell, could this scene not take place in any other world, setting, or place?  Maybe a few things would need to be changed - say, in a futuristic world the dragons would be some sort of a high-tech plain or drop ship, but what does it matter?  This scene could easily, with only a few minor changes, be transported into a new - entirely different, even opposite - world.

The setting does not matter in something which could be swapped so easily.  There is an exorbitant amount of simply useless and meaningless settings.  Why?  Because they don't effect the plot, they don't enhance the character, and they don't set a definite theme and mood to the story.

Sure, from that short paragraph, you could tell that something evil was encroaching on Fardell, and even if we did care about this world, those exact same words could be transported into another world or dimension and mean the same thing - and this makes them stereotypical and dull.

The key is that in any setting, be it Si-Fi, High Fantasy, Dystopian, Steampunk, even Historical-Fiction - the key is the setting and the character have to mesh.  They have to compliment each other, and they have to click.

The setting and the character must give each other trouble.  More specifically, the setting must create problems for the character, even if your not writing a Nature-vs-Man style plot.  Some kind of conflict between character and setting, and a change in character because of the setting, must occur for the setting to be worth something.  Otherwise, I don't care if I live on Pluto 9, where the grass is orange and people walk on their heads.

For example, from one of my historical-fiction novellas, my main character, Drustan, wants one thing he could never have, and no, there is never an exception, and yes, he always pursues the dream but can just never quite get there.

And that is because of the setting.  Gaelic Ireland and Drustan mesh - even if they simultaneously clash.  Or rather, they mesh because they clash.  The setting matters to the story - it matters to Drustan.  I couldn't just move him to an entirely new world with the snap of my fingers.  Why?  Because he's engraved in the setting, just as the setting is engraved in him.

That's what we want in a setting.  We don't care if you've created two complete languages for the story, mapped out the world down to ever detail, we don't care, not if it doesn't matter to the plot and to the character, anyway.  And the setting has to change the character, form him, and force him to grow.

So many stories simply ignore the setting.  This needs to change.

~R. A. H. Thacker


  1. Another great post. ;P Good thoughts. I'm in the middle of planning my story, so I'll definitely take this into account.
    Oh, and it also makes me want to read your historical fiction novella. :P

    1. Lol, this is what I learned after trying to build a world for so long. I'm glad this can help, though.
      Haha, maybe sometime I'll post an excerpt here. So long as I can have a writing lesson included in it.

  2. Replies
    1. It's from nothing, really. Although Aetherbrood are a type of creature from another story of mine.

    2. Did you write that? Well, even though the setting didn't 'mesh' with the character, like you said, that was really good writing. I thought it was from a published book. :D

    3. Ohhh... why thank you, yes, I did write it. I switched tenses atleast once in there, but oh well.

      I'm better at writing short clips than full length novels, for some reason. It's irritating.

  3. And this is why my settings are, for the most part, lousy.

    BTW, I've nominated you for the Liebster Award! http://dreams-dragons.blogspot.com/2013/09/liebster-award.html

    1. Once you identify a problem and it's cause, it's much easier to deal with it than blind guesses, as I'm sure you know already.

      Ah! Thank you! I'll get to that right now.


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